Eyes in the Alley – Beauty from Ashes

dark_alley_bigShe fumbled through her purse for her phone. Its unnecessarily loud wring matched the other bells and whistles blasting in her head. They were the kind that told her old lies, played old tapes.

Lipstick, business cards, flash cards for her Spanish class, gloves, make-up mirror…where the hell is that damn thing? she cursed. Out loud apparently. The pastor, full-robed, full-throated, and in full-sermon, rebuked her with a glare, one she’d seen before. It would have been less humiliating to slap her.

She was flustered and wound up tight as a bedspring. And, she was frustrated at her own lack of discernment. Why the hell didn’t I turn this thing off? Who’d be calling now? It’s Sunday, they shouldn’t even be open today she thought, half angry, half relieved. After dropping almost everything, she fingered the noisy culprit. Sliding sideways past her pew neighbors, she answered just in time to catch the call she wished she hadn’t “Your test results are in, ma’am. Can you meet with the doctor tomorrow?”

Ashes.

He fell backwards against the brick wall, his guts, freshly emptied of the remains of fish-dinner-a-la-dumpster. His head, swimming in too much shit wine, conspired with his stomach against all lucidity and balance, let alone self-respect. He smelled of piss, puke and pain. These days, only shame kept him alive and the dull remembrance of a life once lived, once alive with the common promise of…well, promise.

Was it only yesterday that he’d felt the warm body of a wife sleeping next to him? She had stayed with him through the final merger, the one he’d promised would bring them financial freedom. She muscled through his two affairs and the drinking that bridged them both. Now, two years, a foreclosure, divorce, and bankruptcy later, he thought he smelled her hair, the fragrance of mint intermingled in aching reminiscence. But it was only the smell of loss mixed with dog shit on his one remaining shoe. He’d lost the other earlier that day foraging for what was left of his meal, now part of his concrete pillow. And, as it began to snow, he blacked out.

Ashes.

new life from ashes II

She was desperate. It had been too long between hits and her most regular but equally violent trick had just buzzed to be let in. She frantically ravaged through her regular places searching for her small bag of white, powdered courage. If she could get high enough quick enough, perhaps he would get enough soon enough and leave her just enough to start the whole process again.

He pounded on the buzzer. Now, he wasn’t just horny but pissed off and, most likely, more violent as a result. Her lust to forget competed with his to be remembered and a battle ensued as to whose needs would be met first. She gave up. This time, a paying customer in person overruled her quest to be absent. After safely shewing her daughter away in a back room, yelling for her to lock the door, with quivering hand she buzzed him in.

He stormed and swore his way up the four flights of stairs. It was a distance not her friend when it came to her chances of getting through this unscathed. Her door flew open, along with his zipper and a stream of obscenities. Everything aligned in a perfect storm, conspiring against her and sealing her fate. She lucked out this time and suffered only one punch before he got down to business. Through a left eye, now starting to swell, she toughed it out through one more indignity.

Ashes.

Ash Wednesday. Ashes indicate something. They tell us something has been used up, finished. There is nothing left. Any fuel that had provided light or heat no longer exists. It is rendered useless. Ashes are basically meaningless and, at one level, can provide a bleak picture of what many of us feel about our lives. Sometimes, life offers little more than the used up fodder of someone else’s fire.

In the Gospel however ashes become something more than foul smelling carbon. Jesus reveals to us how the ashes of death are turned to the fertilizer of new life. In his name, we trade our ashes for God’s beauty. Death and dying for life and living.

An anxiety-ridden woman receives the call; a washed up businessman is now one with the streets; a hooker walks a tightrope of addiction and fear to survive the only lifestyle she knows

All of us are only a hair’s breadth away from ruin or reward, disaster or dream, life or lies. We’re in this together. And wherever our lives may be in ruins, God can bring about beauty from our ashes.

May it be so.

Pictures from here and here

6 thoughts on “Eyes in the Alley – Beauty from Ashes

  1. Rob,

    What I love most about this series you’re going to host through Lent is the way it forces us to ask, “Where does God meet each and every one of these individuals?” The stories you’ve told are visceral, but they’re the real experience of so many of us humans. What do we do with that, if we believe in God? What do we do with that if we not only believe in God but believe God meets us where we are?

    Thank you for hosting this series, my friend. I look forward to listening and learning from the community as we go.

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    1. Indeed. Christianne, it is for personal reasons largely that I’m doing this series. I had an indirect association with all things church as a boy. Even though I enjoyed a wonderful upbringing in a great home with a great family, I saw much of life from underneath it that prompts many of the questions I’m asking in this series. What do we do with those whose lives seem trapped, hopeless, wearisome, confusing? How do we speak into their lives with the mystical realities of the Gospel in ways that will reach and touch and move and guide and encourage and…?

      Thanks so much for your own courage to jump into the fray as our next blogger!

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  2. I liked the various scenarios which you presented Rob. Different parts of each one unearthed a bit of skeleton in my own closet, my own upbringing. For me, the season of Lent is not just ashes. It is freedom from death and decay which can become suffocating all by itself. Thank you for offering this.
    Diane

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  3. Pingback: Eyes in the Alley: Beauty for Ashes » Contemplative Monk :Contemplative Monk

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