In fear, but also in hope: On Ash Wednesday and going to war

There’s something powerful about Ash Wednesday being the week you send your husband off to war. Again.

He was supposed to have been gone already – I thought the service would be my first time at church without him. Instead, it was our last time at churIMG_3154ch together before he left. As I faced the bowl of ashes, I was filled with dread.

It’s an odd thing, being someone who longs for peace, who views all war as tragedy, who chafes at the American Exceptionalism and Colonialism that so often infiltrate our foreign policy… to stand proudly and sing along during The Army Song (even if I must change a couple words to be able to sing it authentically). To have my house decorated with the signs of a family established during war on one wall… and mandalas drawn by Buddhist monks on another. To have an award that includes the motto “Strike Fear”… hanging on my office wall at church.

In fear, but also in hope…

I live in a tension of being so, so proud of the uniform my husband wears, while being ever aware of the blood spilled at the hands of Soldiers of war throughout history. I am proud of his work as a chaplain – of his commitment to bring about wholeness in a broken world – as he advocates for those on the margins in the military because of their religion, gender, orientation, and beliefs. He provides care for the wounded – those wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. But our lives are marked by death and destruction. War is always tragic. 

In fear, but also in hope…

Last Wednesday, our foreheads bearing the marks of crosses of ashes, I couldn’t escape that tension. War is death. There’s no other purpose for it. People die. Soldiers die. Civilians die. Children die. The land is marred with blood and bullets. As people of faith we confidently proclaim the good news of life and redemption… and war destroys the hope of that life at every turn.

As an Army family, our marriage deals in death. On our first night as a married couple, we discussed what I would do if I I heard that knock on the door to inform me he had been killed in combat. I kissed him goodbye a week later – and he came home after our first anniversary. Our son attended a Soldier’s memorial ceremony when he was 5 days old. Our wills are updated. And yet, we live life in the present, knowing that none of us, really, is guaranteed another day.

In fear, but also in hope… 

And that’s the point of all this, I suppose. We long, we wait. There’s no way to get to Easter but to go through Lent. There’s no way to get to the final resurrection but to go through the brokenness that is life on earth, even while we plant seeds of hope and healing. Ashes on our foreheads reminds us of our own mortality, but we know that this is not the end, that there is a hope yet to come…

In fear, but also in hope, we come together with ashes on our heads.
The planet is dying in our hands;
people turn to each other for food and strength
only to be shoved away.

Each day we deal in death,
yet pretend that we are good.
Let us take forty days to look hard at our so-called goodness
and see what it covers up.
Then, we will join together in taking up the cross
of living in the world as it is,
for there is only one earth, and, as far as we know, only one human race.
~ Chalice Worship

In fear, but also in hope, we recognize that, though these 40 days reminds us of our own humanity, we now see through a glass darkly. And, even in the face of war, even with ashes on our heads, we confidently proclaim that someday, somehow, as a mystery we don’t yet understand…

Easter is coming.