Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the church calendar.
Lent is a 40-day season of fasting, repentance, and inward glancing in preparation for the pinnacle event of the Christian faith: Christ's sacrificial death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter.
During last Sunday's sermon, my church's new priest reminded us that Christianity is not just another religion about being good and doing the right thing. In our faith tradition, God literally became human, living for more than 30 years in human flesh without special privileges.
This intimate God-human relationship reminds us, too, that, if we are made in God's image, humans can reveal God to us. We can be overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, we can see Christ suffering again in the eyes of the refugees, we can see glimpses of the human story fully revealed in the faces of the dying who don't fear death.
One year ago, my friend and coworker Margaret passed away. The last time I saw her was Ash Wednesday. And she told me she had asked the nurse what it felt like to die and she wasn't afraid.
In that frail woman strapped to an oxygen tank, I saw courage like I'd never seen before. I saw the face of Christ. And maybe that's why I marvel even while I weep, how a human can become so much like God, overcoming suffering like that.
So, I hold onto this faith - and this tradition - because the answer to suffering is that God suffers, too. If we are children and sisters and partners with God, we will see our pain reflected back in the eyes of God, and those eyes may belong to a child or a stranger, or an old woman who accidentally changed our life.
God with us.