In which Ash Wednesday is observed
The organist was playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano as people entered the sanctuary. Candles flickered on the communion table, and in front of the table were baskets with strips of fabric and Sharpies. The lights were a little dimmed. Printed on the cover of the bulletin was the prayer by Clement of Rome. The sanctuary held a full quietness.
When the prelude finished, Claire began the service. “Friends, welcome to our Ash Wednesday service, as we begin the season of Lent. This year during the next forty days we will be guided by these words of Clement, one of the most ancient of the church fathers. In the prayer printed on the cover of the bulletin he lifts up practices, and we will encourage each other to engage in these practices as part of our own Lenten discipline. We will touch on those disciplines in the service tonight, and in the weeks that follow.
“Now let us sing the opening song, ‘O Lord, hear my prayer’.”
O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
When I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
Come and listen to me.
Again and again the congregation sang the words, until the organist sensed it was time to finish. The song was followed by a full minute of silence. Claire looked out on the congregation. Gladys sat by herself. Bill must not be feeling well. Alice and Garrett were there, looking thoughtful. Toledo sat in the back, and Bill Carr leaned against the doorway in the back. Claire didn’t see Emma, and figured she had decided not to come after all. All told there were about forty there. The Ash Wednesday service was one for the most devout, those who welcomed the introspection of Lent each year.
Claire motioned to Garrett, who came forward to do the reading. “A reading from the Psalter, number 51. Listen for the word of God.”
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin….
Garrett is such a fine reader, thought Claire. He doesn’t just say the words, he embodies them. As he finished, Claire gave him a quick smile. She got up once again.
“The psalmist and Clement have given us a lot of images to work with tonight – fabric and soap, hyssop and sacrifice, light and truth, a tapestry, protection, forgiveness, confession. My old preaching professor would probably say there are too many images to convey a message.
“But life is like that sometimes, or most of the time. We never have the opportunity to work on just one thing. Most days we have dozens of things come our way – work, family, school, friends. Illness, disappointment, betrayal. Hopes fulfilled and hopes dashed. It’s never just one thing, one image, one virtue or vice that we get to work on.
“This Lent I’d like for us to think of this season as a time when we are making a tapestry, weaving together all the strands of our lives into a whole. In the prayer and in the psalm we’re given threads to start our work.
“Tonight you may start with the thread of sin or mercy. You may need to begin with the strong soap of truth, or the medicine of God’s grace. You may desire to be made clean by the God who knows you, or to bring your best offering to the God who loves you.
“You probably noticed the fabric and pens here. You are invited, as you feel moved, to take a strip of fabric, or more if you need them, to write a piece of your tapestry. It may be a prayer, a hope or a confession; it may be the name of a person or a place that lies heavily in your heart. It may be a hope or a gratitude. As we collect them we will weave them together and make our own Lenten tapestry.
“Come as you feel ready. Let us begin our Lent.”
Claire sat back down and noticed that Alice was looking at her intently. Claire gave a half smile back. After a few moments, Claire took her own piece of fabric. “The Saints” she wrote.
When those who wanted to come forward had, Claire offered prayers for the evening, and then the imposition of the ashes. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return,” she said, over and over again. To Martha’s old flame, Toledo. To Gladys, whose beloved was closer to the grave than any of them wanted to admit. To Garrett who embodied the scripture. To Alice, who seemed vulnerable, and who in turn offered the ashes to Claire.
The service concluded with an a cappella singing of “What Wondrous Love Is This.” Claire noticed Gladys bow her head during the third verse. She looked so alone and so sad.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and grateful be,
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.
First thing I do when I get home is pour myself a big glass of wine, Claire thought. She called upstairs as she went in. “Emma! I’m home.” Rex came trotting out to meet her.
Claire went upstairs. No Emma there. No note. She couldn’t have taken the car because Claire had it. She wasn’t at the Hills because Gladys or Bill would’ve called. No messages on the phone. Where was she?
Claire called Marsala’s house. Not there.
She took a deep breath. She said a quick prayer. She called Martha.
The phone rang several times before Martha picked up.
“Did I wake you up?”
“Just a little bit. Are you okay?”
“I can’t find Emma. I had the Ash Wednesday service and I came home and she isn’t here and there’s no note.”
“Okay. Let’s think about this. Does it look like anyone broke in?”
“No. The door was locked and none of the windows were broken. And Rex was fine.”
“Did you call the usual suspects?”
“Anything going on between you two?”
“Oh, jeez, Martha. Yes. I forgot to tell you. I told her about her dad, and she ran away to the Hills, and spent the night there, but then I got her and things were fine. She said she understood but she was still mad but things have been fine, I swear.”
“Okay. Let’s remember we’re dealing with a sixteen-year-old. They aren’t always known for their common sense, even as great a kid as Emma. Have you checked the computer?”
“No. Hang on. Google history. Oh, God.”
“She’s been googling her dad. ‘There are seventeen people named Harris Shelton Wood in the U.S.’ And one law firm in Albuquerque. She followed up on one in Montana. Crap, Martha – you don’t think she’s headed to Montana, do you?”
“Maybe. How would she have gotten to the train station?”
“The bus stop is just a few blocks away and then it’s a straight shot to the train station. Give me a sec to see if it looks like she packed.”
Claire set the phone down. Emma’s backpack was not on the kitchen table. No toothbrush in the bathroom. No jacket on the door.
“Martha, I think she’s gone. What do I do?”
“Okay. Knowing how sensible she is, I wouldn’t call the police just yet. Go to the train station. See if she’s there. I’ll work on things on my end.”
“The Saints?” Claire’s voice cracked.
“Where there is darkness, light, Claire.”
“I’ll call you when I get to the train station.”
“Thanks. Try to stay calm.”
Claire left a note for Emma.
Em – if you are reading this note then please call me IMMEDIATELY. I am worried sick about you and have gone to look for you. Please let me know you are home and safe.