Ash Wednesday came, and I wasn’t ready for it. I had planned to give Ashes to Go at the subway, but I missed rush hour because I couldn’t find my wallet. No wallet, no MetroCard; no MetroCard, no subway platform. I searched for it for 45 minutes, and by the end, I was just walking in a circle, wandering room to room, and just thinking, “I can’t even find my wallet. How can I do anything?” I found it underneath one Lucy’s cardigans on the dining room table. I kind of held it in my hand and I looked around the house, which was somehow even messier now than before I started looking, even more jumbled, littered with even more toys and clothes and the detritus of having too much stuff and not enough time. “How can I do this? How can I even do this day?” I thought.
And that was the beginning of the day, and it kept right on going that way. But as the day went on, I got a little more forgiving of myself. Things kept messing up—I tried giving ashes at the local Fire Department, and my offer was politely declined, since I was not a Catholic priest—but I thought, “At least I tried.”
Finally, by the end of the day, I went to address roll call at the 34th Precinct of the NYPD. The local clergy had been invited by the Community Relations officers to come and speak, so I asked which officers never got to hear from anyone, and it was the late shift, the overnighters, who begin work at 11:00 p.m. I had made appointment for Wednesday, February 10th. So I got there, a little early, for an small Ash Wednesday address and prayer. Except, typically, when I got there it turns out they had all been wondering where I was the night before—for them, their shift is the beginning of the day, even though it starts in the last hour. Wednesday, February 10th, for them, had begun at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, February 9th.
So that’s the way it goes sometimes. All our works are flawed, and all our intentions have hidden motives. Nothing ever quite works out the way you think it might—and sometimes, you just have days where everything you touch falls apart. But on those days, like yesterday, as the world seems to be collapsing everywhere, God’s grace also seems to shine forth. Our works are less important than we think, and our failures less devastating.
This Lent, we will be looking at the works of mercy during Dinner Church—do you wonder what they are? Me, too. I’m eager to explore them together with you. But I suspect that in each of them will be a tender regard for human beings, who yearn for so much, but whose capacity to achieve their desires is so small. Grace does not fill the gap, but closes it.