Friday, March 07, 2014

ashes on my forehead and trying not to weep @SaraMilesSF

City of God: Faith in the Streets

By Sara Miles, a review

I read this book in airports on a flight from Houston to Dallas, TX. I am sure any number of people wondered why this flannel-wearing guy reading City of God kept crying in his seat. I am certain the man sitting next to me on my flight when I got to page 185 thought I was having a breakdown.

There's this line: "I don't even know what 'this' is,' said Kelsey, 'but I could do this forever." She's talking about offering ashes to people in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. The book has built emotionally to such a high level when this sentence is spoken, I burst not just into tears but into sobs.

Miles' book is, on the surface, quite simple. It's about offering ashes in public one day in San Francisco in 2012. But a good chunk of the book is devoted to the years building up to 2012 when Ashes to Go or Taking Ashes to the Street was a developing habit around the country.

Miles is adept at describing the beauty of the liturgies they offer in her church. She is also adept at describing her city, her neighborhood. She loves her place, and is committed to it. So this is not just a story of imposing ashes, but a story of the people who deeply need and desire them.

It is about the beauty of public liturgy and a world in need of "more forgiveness."

Reading this just a few days after Ash Wednesday 2014, the book resonates on so many levels. I plan to share it with others widely and wildly.

This book will coalesce and further a movement, the retrieval and revival of Ash Wednesday observances. It will also deepen it, and give it the compelling theological vision it deserves.

The book also splendidly compares Ash Wednesday to other liturgical observances, like Our Lady of Guadalupe in December, and the daily prayer offices.

Sara Miles knows how to write. She will change your heart.

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