by Elizabeth Hunter
Something happened at church—probably three Ash Wednesdays ago—that got me thinking about scars. After the imposition of ashes, our family began trooping back to the pew. But my youngest child stopped me in the middle of the aisle, gesturing for me to bend down.
“People are staring at my face,” he whispered into my ear. Leaning away slightly, I took inventory: dark, curly hair; a black, smudged cross; golden-brown forehead; dark brown eyes with curly lashes; stubborn chin. Totally normal. I started to say so, but then he spoke.
“Are people looking at my scar?” he asked with a worried frown. “Can everyone see it?”
Huh? I wondered. What was he talking about? That scar from his early childhood, softened by years of cocoa butter, didn’t even draw my attention anymore. Next to the ashes, the scar was barely noticeable.
What do we see?
Our scars are the result of wounds being healed. These are the marks that remain after collagen rushes in—much like a team of first responders charged with healing and strengthening broken tissue. The layers of new collagen fibers fill in the gaps, but they are markedly different than the pre-existing tissue around them. When in their zest to repair the damage, these little body warriors overdo the collagen, the marks last a lifetime.
I have plenty of scars.
Did you know that after a heart attack, the muscle of the heart is scarred? Or that our bellybuttons are scars—formed when the umbilical cord is cut, just after birth? In other words, almost immediately upon our entry into this world, you, I and everyone are of necessity scarred—for life.
Or perhaps you, like me, have healed from some emotional wounds, yet certain things make those scars so itchy you have to go outside, breathe deeply and walk it off.
For me, scars are not just something to be self-conscious about. They are also proof that we heal. They fade after a while. But they never completely disappear. Scars have stories; but so do ashes.
This cross is not about death or making us all feel guilty and ashamed. This cross is about hope. It’s about looking for and rejoicing in the promise of new life and the everlasting love of God in Christ.
Like my youngest son, I also worry about others focusing on the broken parts of me. At times, I, too, have focused on my brokenness—unable to see the grace. Yet we are continually reminded that in baptism, we are made new. That means something! Instead of obsessing over past wounds, instead of focusing on ourselves, we’re actually called to live focused on the cross and loving our neighbors.
Tonight I will sit again in Ash Wednesday services, beginning Lent by admitting to my brokenness, and bearing something more important than brokenness. These smudged ashes on the foreheads of everyone gathered here—beautiful, sooty reminders of loss and love that we did absolutely nothing to earn—these bodily, impermanent crosses—are evidence of Jesus’ scars and our own healing. I am oh so ready to receive this healing…as pure gift. This cross is not about death or making us all feel guilty and ashamed. This cross is about hope. It’s about looking for and rejoicing in the promise of new life and the everlasting love of God in Christ.
Elizabeth Hunter is the editor of Gather magazine, Women of the ELCA’s print publication. This post was adapted from “Scars from our ashes” that first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Cafe, (Boldcafe.org).