Ash Wednesday.

A chalked smearing of celebration tasted—now absent, ached for, and anticipated.

I was not raised in a church of signs. I knew no liturgies or creeds. I had no experience of stoles or collars, lecterns or processionals. I could not name the seasons of the liturgical year, save advent.

It was college before I happened to meet someone with dirt smudged upon their forehead one Wednesday late in February.

They seemed to be intentional about it.

The first time someone crossed my forehead with ash, I nearly cried…not for the moment, or any catastrophic grief, but because something sacramental was stirring within me, and I had no language for what it was and why it mattered.

I looked around the room at that Vespers service, and I could see Jesus. For once, I knew exactly where he was. He was here. He was with us. I’d learned long ago that I was blessed to receive all things by faith, and now I was coming to learn I was also blessed with a God who reveals himself in intimately physical ways…sometimes with water, sometimes with wine, and sometimes with ash.

We serve a God who loves to be seen.

Walking back from that first Ash Wednesday service, the cross on my forehead seared with an odd kind of proclamation: touched by and awaiting the divine. I felt naked. In my belief, and in my hope.

This year, my church is navigating the themes of Lent with a quiet, moving invitation: Deeper Still.

Our pastor AJ took the stage the first Sunday of Lent, and he preached on our hierarchy of need. Basic human needs, love and belonging, the need to realize significance in the world—all of them. And then he pondered what Jesus might have to say to those needs. At every turn, AJ found himself drawn to return to a simple question from Jesus: “Do you trust me?” And he guessed that probably, each and every one of us had a need clamoring within, where Jesus was inviting our trust.

Shifting a bit in my chair, I couldn’t escape the prickly feeling crawling up my spine—that question belongs at every level of my being right now: Do you trust me in providing for you? Do you trust me in your profession? Do you trust the call I’ve placed on your life? Do you trust me in relationship? Do you trust that I hold the dreams you long to realize?

In this space, I feel a little naked again—not for the ash upon my brow, but for waiting in the midst of tension unresolved, where everyone can see.

Remaining here feels like night before the stars breakthrough, armed with nothing but an unrelenting premonition that God does indeed hold the darkness.

What is to ground us in our waiting, before divine light and direction sweep over the unknown?

More and more, I am beginning to believe we are sustained by the divine invitation of the ordinary: the table, the lantern, the song, and the story. Four daily calls to be present to this life with one another, within ourselves, and before the throne of God.

What if these things too are our signs? What if these are our wonders?

As I pay attention to the last week, I see these are the places where I have received hope to keep journeying. Engaging each of these “signs,” I have been able to connect with something deep and hungry in myself, something bright and life-giving in my community, something epic and true with God.

There’s a communion liturgy we say together at our church, and I think it rings true to this life we all live and the choice presented to us in our waiting for miracles:

We come to the table because we’ve been invited.
We come to the table because God comes near to us.
We come to the table with God and with others.
We come to the table anticipating God’s healing in our own lives and of the whole world.

What signs and wonders help sustain your hope?


Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world.  She’s a 27 year old seminary student, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.
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