Blue probably won’t be giving up coffee or chocolate during the upcoming Lenten season. He already has a PHD in connecting with the desolation and alienation of our Lord’s journey.
Blue is a Native American. As soon as he was eligible he left his Cheyenne River Sioux reservation to enter the military in the late 70's. He devoted seven years to Uncle Sam serving in Panama. Upon his return he utilized the GI Bill to study three years at the University of Minnesota, but eventually the multiple layers of PTSD, lack of family resources and minimal employment options mercilessly caught up with him. Now, like so many of his Native brothers and sisters he walks the stations of the cross through our Denver streets sleeping in alleyways and under bridges desperately thirsting for his next drink.
In solemn ceremonies next Wednesday ashes will be gently smeared onto foreheads in the shape of a cross, with the reminder that we were formed from the dust and will return to dust (Gen. 3:19). Following ancient near eastern customs, where ashes on the head were a sign of distress or repentance, we reflect on our own experience of desolation and alienation... our own desperate thirsting.
We’re encouraged to taste the dust by finding a form of fasting and prayer that will connect us with both Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness along with his journey toward execution outside of Jerusalem. I remember the year I decided to give up coffee and compensated for the caffeine intake by drinking about five cups of green tea. As a man of privilege, I’ve always awkwardly stumbled my way through participation in this uniquely powerful season of the church calendar.
Among the urban poor I’ve discovered there are those in close proximity who often provide the most profound insight for my Lenten journey. When I've paused to allow for it... those like Blue have become my spiritual directors guiding me through the realistic anguish of our holy Skapegoat.
In listening to the story of Blue and his lonely peers I hear the voice of my Savior pleading for me to journey with him in the wilderness where I learn what only severe thirsting can teach me. Rather than miserably struggling to avoid that morning coffee, I'll seek out the voice of Blue inviting me to taste the dust and pay close attention to those desperate thirsts I’ve busied myself to ignore.