There is a song by Christian singing artist Crystal Lewis called “Beauty for Ashes.” It’s a take on Isaiah 61 where the prophet promises the grieving nation of Israel that the time is coming when their grief will turn to gladness. When their mourning in sackcloth and ashes will become “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes (Is. 61:3).”
Some of us were talking about this passage from Isaiah and got to thinking about how we do (or do not) grieve in our culture. Would it make a difference if we wore scratchy sackcloth and laid down on piles of ashes and rubbed the ash into our face and hair?
Some of us thought this kind of mourning would be more congruent with how we really feel when grief consumes us. And it would also let others know that we are going through a time of deep mourning.
There’s no danger that we will revert to the old ways of grieving. But in a way, there’s something to be said for grieving in the ancient way.
When we lack deep, meaningful ways to grieve, we miss out on the congruence between what we feel on the inside matching with the discomfort of wearing ashes and uncomfortable clothing on the outside. What words cannot say, the clothing and ashes convey.
We also miss out on experiencing the contrast between deep and utter suffering and the newness that release brings. Isaiah says that those who mourn are given “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit…”
What would it be like to go through a season of grief and then emerge from that time cleansed and ready to wear fresh and beautiful garments? And to move on in our lives in such a way as to “be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that God may be glorified.”
Grief is a tough feeling to work through and one that we all experience on varying levels throughout our lifetime. The season of Lent permits us to feel such feelings for an extended period of time so that when Easter comes, we can feel the difference between what was to what is. We then become resurrected with Christ.
This Lenten season, enter into whatever area of your life causes anguish and suffering. Feel the feelings and know that in due time they will be transformed into “a beautiful headdress…the oil of gladness… and the garment of praise…that you may be called (an) oak of righteousness.”