Eating Ashes

“. . . as much sense as eating ashes.”

“All those who make idols are worthless, and the gods they prize so highly are useless . . . Such people are too stupid to know what they are doing. They close their eyes and their minds to the truth.  The maker of idols hasn’t the wit or the sense to say, ‘Some of the wood I burned up. I baked some bread on the coals, and I roasted meat and ate it. And the rest of the wood I made into an idol. Here I am bowing down to a block of wood!‘  It makes as much sense as eating ashes. His foolish ideas have so misled him that he is beyond help. He won’t admit to himself that the idol he holds in his hand is not a god at all.”
(Isaiah 44:9,18-20)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent for most Christians.  If you’ve followed my “Wednesday Wonderings” for a while, you probably recognize the photo above as a scene from my pre-Lenten activities.  It’s my annual burning of last year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday.  It’s traditional that the palm branches used to celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem during the previous year’s Holy Week celebrations are reduced to ashes to be used in this year’s Ash Wednesday observance.  My formula for the process is always the same.  I wait for darkness, take a metal bucket, fold the palm branches into the bucket, add way too much charcoal lighter fluid (and then add some more), stand back and throw a match into the bucket, and photograph the flames.  It wasn’t until I loaded the photos onto my computer that I noticed the surprise.  See it?  Do you notice the face in the flames near the very right-hand top of the photo?

Now don’t get me wrong.  The face in the flames is simply a chance, momentary swirling of gases from the burning palm branches and charcoal lighter fluid, but what if someone saw it and decided they were seeing the presence of a deity?  What if they gave my palm branches and lighter fluid the attributes of a god at work and began setting ritualistic fires?  What if they designed a beautiful metal holder, began inviting others to join them in the burning of special palms and lighter fluid, ans then asked folks to predict the workings of their god and the future by the images they saw in the flames?  Maybe by now you’re saying, “Gary, I think you inhaled too many lighter fluid fumes!”  But have I . . .?

In the passage above from the book of Isaiah the prophet is making fun of the people who have taken pieces of wood and turned them into idols to worship.  The prophet goads them to confront the fact that they take one piece of wood from a tree and use it to cook their food, and take another piece of wood from the same tree and turn it into an object to be be worshiped.  How crazy is that?  Yet, we as humans have the ability to delude ourselves with that kind of craziness and so much more.  We have the ability to give ourselves to idols of our own fashioning, and then become blind to the way our creations might be stealing our lives from us.

Maybe the first message of Lent is that we are called to follow the God who created us, not the god or gods we created for ourselves.  Lent could be a good time for us to carefully look at what controls us.  If we discover that something controls us that stands outside or against the way of life God calls us to in the sacrificial love of Christ, then maybe it’s time to build a fire and turn our gods into ashes before we find ourselves in the words of Isaiah, “eating ashes.”  I pray that God will help me during Lent to clear my life of gods that keep me from fully giving myself to God’s will.  How about you?

Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Cross Lanes United Methodist Church
Cross Lanes, West Virginia

Help save lives! For more information on my book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression,” visit
My new book, “Wednesday Wonderings: Spiritual Journaling Through a Lens” is available at and
Check out my video, “Teens Surviving the Storm”

~ by revgenelson on March 5, 2014.

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