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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

715 Ash Wednesday tells me only to keep trying: to believe, to be better, not to give up hope.

Day 715 Tuesday March 1, 2022

Ash Wednesday tells me only to keep trying: to believe, to be better, not to give up hope. And that’s faith enough for any season.

(This reflection resonates with me and I think we all share the journey of the writer. As part of the effort toward deep, compassionate listening please think about your own journey of faith and hope).

On Wednesday, in Catholic parishes across the world, a priest will dip his thumb into a pot of ashes — the burned remains of blessed palms from last year’s Palm Sunday Mass — and smudge the sign of the cross on each congregant’s forehead. Performing this ancient ritual, he will murmur,

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The priest will say these words on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, but he will not be saying these words to me.

I have had a troubled relationship with the church of my childhood since childhood itself, when I learned in Catholic school that I would never be allowed to become a priest. For decades, nevertheless, the gifts of my faith outweighed the pronouncements of the institutional church that I found alienating or enraging.

Human institutions are inherently flawed, and I have always loved the rituals that linked me across time to so many others facing fear and loneliness and pain, to so many others finding solace in their faith.

Then the pandemic quarantines left me unchurched through no choice of my own, and the death of our last parent, for whom there would only ever be one church, left my husband and me free to make our own choices about where to worship. I came to understand that my growing feeling of spiritual alienation wasn’t temporary. I loved my parish, and I loved our brilliant, compassionate pastor, but I was done with the institutional church.

Still, I miss the community. I miss the singing. I miss serving in social justice ministries. I even miss the ashes.

Ash Wednesday isn’t a day for rebellion. It’s a day for fasting, reflection and prayer, a somber reminder that our lives are brief, our days running out. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The longer this pandemic drags on, the clearer those words become.

At 60, I am making peace with the dust to which I will return. For myself, at least — and only for myself — I don’t even mind the idea of mortality, for I have thrown in my lot with immortality. And isn’t the promise of immortality what Lent prepares us for?

How will I make ready, now that I am without a church? What rituals will I observe, now that the Stations of the Cross no longer belong to me?

In the old days, my Lenten resolution almost always meant giving up something whose absence I would feel acutely: coffee, perhaps, or cussing. In that way I would be reminded, again and again, of what this season is for. But the practice of imposed sacrifice feels as alien to me now as anything else from my decades as a practicing Catholic. Haven’t we all had enough sacrifice in these last years? Every day I grieve two beloved family members lost during this pandemic. Every day I bear the grief of a burning world. I don’t need to give up cussing at Vladimir Putin, too.

During their midlife years of creeping weight gain, my mother and father would announce that they were losing 10 pounds for Lent, a goal I always found hilarious. As a Lenten resolution, it did bear some resemblance to the fasting and sackcloth of the early days of Christianity, if not for an entirely spiritual reason. I’m no theologian, but I feel sure that Jesus did not spend 40 days and 40 nights in the desert so he could fit into his old jeans.

It’s not that I disapprove of the secular expressions of the Lenten observation that have sprung up during this century of steeply declining church membership. If people want to lose 10 pounds or jump-start their new novel or give veganism a try, I say more power to them. And God knows I’m all for a social media fast.

Life is hard for all living things. To make it harder — knowingly and willingly, for even a contained period — is a uniquely human exercise. We want to be better than we are. We want living to mean more than surviving. There is something truly beautiful about that impulse, whatever form it takes.

But as a new member of the unchurched Christian faithful, what am I supposed to do with Lent? Surely there must be some spiritual practice that falls between a church-ordained ritual and a secular perfectibility project. Something that would help me use this time of prayer and reflection to move away from the fears I cannot shake — for my country, for my planet — and toward a stronger faith in the possibility of redemption, a more certain conviction that all is not yet lost in this deeply troubled world.

My maternal forebears, all Protestants, were great believers in starting the day with a prayer and an entry from that season’s devotional. But my idea of a daily spiritual practice is less a prayer written by someone else than a walk in the woods alone. A devotional isn’t what I’m looking for, and neither is another church’s Lenten program. Not yet, anyway. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m looking for.

Forty years ago, I took a college course in the philosophy of religion. I still have the textbook, and I’ve been looking at what I underlined in that book, at which passages I carefully marked with a star. Why did the girl I was 40 years ago decide certain passages should be marked with a star?

I signed up for the class because I was having my first crisis of faith. The class itself did nothing to clarify my confusion, and continually thinking about the questions that plagued me wasn’t helping, either. Still I fretted. Still I tried to figure out what I believed and why.

Then one summer afternoon, months later, I was sitting in my parents’ backyard, listening to a mockingbird sing. Suddenly, inexplicably, a feeling of peace came over me. A feeling of perfect, absolute peace. No voice of reassurance came with it, and no words formed in my own mind to explain it. But if there had been words, they would’ve sounded something like: “It’s OK. Don’t worry. It’s OK.”

I didn’t need to understand. I didn’t need to decide.

It was the closest thing I have ever known to the sort of moment William James described in “The Varieties of Religious Experience” — a work that is heavily highlighted and marked with stars in my old textbook. And maybe that memory is enough for me now, too. I can continue to ponder, to be puzzled. I will almost certainly continue to feel just a little bit lost. I’ll look for a new church someday, a new place to put all this sorrow and a new community with whom to share it, but I’m not obliged to find that place just now.

Ash Wednesday tells me only to keep trying: to believe, to be better, not to give up hope. And that’s faith enough for any season.

Reflection by Margaret Renkl

Announcements: Tonight with Victoria

The FCM Faith Communities Committee invites you to participate in the FCM Faith Communities Zoom Networking Session this Tuesday, March 1 to share your thoughts, understanding and experiences on the “Importance of Faith communities in the Lives of FCM Members.”

I have been asked to facilitate this session, and I would really appreciate it if as many of our Emmaus folks would participate and share their thoughts on their experiences of being in our Emmaus Community.

Topic: Importance of Faith Communities in the Lives of FCM Members

1. What feeds and/or nourishes your soul?

2. What would bolster your faith life

3. What does community mean to you?

The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles H. Vogl

PP. Preface - P. 28

Day and Time:

Tuesday, March 1, 2022, 8-9:15 pm EST. Please note, we will begin promptly at 8 pm EST and end promptly at 9:15 pm EST. Please note: we have added 15 minutes to the discussion.


Please RSVP via email to Ginny Cusack, FCMFC Coordinator at by Monday, February 28, 2022, if you plan to attend.

Zoom: All sessions will be on Zoom. If you have not been on Zoom and you need assistance, please email Ginny Cusack at before February 28 so she can walk you through the simple process of accessing the zoom meeting. She will be unable to help you the night of the sessions.

Here is the zoom link for Tuesday, March 1 2022

Meeting ID: 818 1466 9170

One tap mobile

+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)

ere is the Link to Wednesday Night. Please ask all not to share this until they come on Wednesday evening. If they decide not to come or can't come on Wednesday evening at 7:00, to please delete the link and not share it forward. This is very exciting--18 months of work. JoAnn and Jim


Next Circle of 100: Wednesday March 2, 2022

Time: 6:45pm—Gather, Chat, Steel Drum w/ Chris Sherertz

7:00pm—Dan Nelson, Ben Eichert, Dolores Huerta & Danny Sheehan

Members & Guests Q&A

8:40pm—Summary & Announcements

8:45pm-- Close Sacred Space

Zoom Link:

Telephone: US: +1 669 900 6833 Meeting ID: 831 252 0323

One tap mobile +16699006833,,8312520323# US (San Jose)


Link to 2/23/22 Circle Zoom Video:

Welcome to learning all about our historic legislation, ElectrifyCalifornia!!

As of the close of business today, Feb 28th, we have a California Bill Number for our LetsGreenCalifornia legislative agenda with a trio of bills--the first being

Electrify California.

Danny Sheehan will report on the Bill and cover its contents. Romero Institute is busy preparing documents for our training day, which will be announced soon. Many of you have expressed excitement about moving into this public stage of organizing and educating. Wednesday evening we together begin that new chapter in our Circle’s Journey. First we must all learn its contents in order to share effectively with our communities.

Dolores Huerta asked us each to reach out to one other human you care about, invite them to participate with us in making history together in California!!

Romero 6-page Brochure LetsGreenCA:


As we rededicate ourselves to this task of creating a comprehensive LetsGreenCalifornia legislative agenda with a trio of bills--the first being

Electrify California--we are guided by the Living Spirit of Mother Earth Herself and our Ancestors that show us the way. Mitakuye Oyasin! Aho!

--Tatanka & Carol

"The Arc of the Moral Universe is long, but it bends toward Justice.” (MLK, Jr.)

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