This is the meditation the Rev. Kevin Johnson, St. Alban’s, Theatre. Arlington, gave at the diocesan worship service for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
I have mixed feelings about Ash Wednesday. I both profoundly appreciate the reality of acknowledging that I am an imperfect human being. And something about the language and actions of Ash Wednesday seems to clash with the truth I know, which is that every child of God is created in the perfect image of God – the Imago Dei.
I also know that no matter what I do or do not do I can not break or remove the Imago Dei that dwells within in my very being. And the same goes for you – nothing you do or do not do can break or remove the perfect Image of God dwelling in the core of your being. Yet, I know – oh do I know all too well – that some days I am a hot mess and that others who look at me likely have a hard time seeing the Image of God in me.
And so, Ash Wednesday – the profound moment of recognizing that I am imperfection wrapped around perfection – a mixed feeling that left me confused, disturbed, chaotically off-centered. Imperfect perfection. Ash Wednesday mixed feelings.
Then, several years back I was hiking through the pine trees of eastern North Carolina, listening to a podcast, when a poem spoke into my ears, birthing peace. In this poem, entitled Every Riven Thing, Christian Wiman describes the action of God towards God’s creation.
“Riven” is an old fashioned word, akin to the word “asunder,” which we hear in the wedding liturgy as in “What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.” Wiman says this about his use of the word riven: “Riven means broken,” Wiman says, “it means shattered or wounded or unhealed, and I think that notion,” he continues, “is very important to me and my notion of God and of religion: that we are broken creatures, very broken creatures. And I don’t think of God as necessarily healing that brokenness as much as participating in it.”
That’s hard to think about – brokenness. In our contemporary culture the idea of failure, of culpability, of our participation in brokenness is not a popular idea. And yet, there is Ash Wednesday – the profound moment of recognizing that I am imperfection wrapped around perfection. An imperfection saturated through and through with the perfect Divine Image of God; a both / and, broken and whole, together. That there is no place where God is not, even within my brokenness.
Here’s Every Riven Thing, by Christian Wiman.
Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
– Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing (2010)
So, here’s to Ash Wednesday. Here’s to the sweet knowledge of the imperfect saturated through and through with the perfect divinity of the One who is perfect. Here’s to both / and, to broken wholeness, to the Imago Dei embraced by the hot mess of human flesh. Here’s to God going, belonging to every riven thing God’s made.