Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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In her book, City of God, with a sharp eye and compassionate heart, Sara Miles exposes the ‘complex, contradictory body of Christ’ that is outside church doors. The book describes her preparations for Ash Wednesday on the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District. Unleashing the liturgical action of imposing ashes among the ‘un-churched,’ grace abounds. The phrase ‘we’re dust and to dust we shall return’ highlights the fragile beauty of humanity and the depths of God’s love.

This outdoors Ash Wednesday is presented by Miles as a great opportunity ‘to reclaim the public language of sin and repentance.’ This invitation to change is taken right to the places where people need to begin living differently: on the streets. But Miles doesn’t scold anybody except herself, for her worry and her own human foibles, which serves to make what she does both more accessible and more challenging to readers.

Most of us would feel anxious about doing normally ‘churchy’ activities in the street. Yet with faith anointing her inward vision she dreams of a renewed world, as she writes: ‘Because out there on the streets, as those crazy preachers shout, startling the pigeons, is the Revelation: “Behold, I am making all things new!” ‘

Not every encounter is friendly. Miles doesn’t white-wash the experience of going around the city offering to make the sign of the cross on people, though generally she is well received. In the end, there is the hope of understanding, forgiveness, and renewal, the coming together with our shared humanity in the capacious and loving arms of God.

This book is beautifully written, in an easy style, theologically grounded: a resource for challenging self reflection. I highly recommend it.

Clark Berge SSF