The first step, I realized, was to find an appropriate method of burning. Based on the experience of a pastor at another church, whose identity shall remain anonymous, I knew that two things were essential:
- Not to burn burdens in the sanctuary itself. That can create a lot of smoke, set off fire alarms, and produce the fire department. That can be a real mood-breaker during Ash Wednesday services. "Remember that you are dust, and to [LOUD SIREN] you shall return."
- Not to use real paper, which also produces voluminous smoke. See above.
I needed flash paper, which would vanish into thin air the moment it was lit. While googling for a flash paper source, I quickly recognized that magicians have the corner market. After an extensive search, I finally tracked down a magician on the eastside who operates a shop out of his home. Let's just say that if I ever tire of pastoral "hocus pocus," I could make decent money selling magic supplies.
I had one of those weeks where selling magic supplies didn't seem half-bad. I was suffering from ecclesial malaise -- weary of the church, the call, the endless moments of service. In spite of the tears, the venting to friends, the prayers, and the complaints, I felt like a mouse caught in a glue trap in the church's kitchen. I was still alive but unable to move.
I handed out rectangles of flash paper to the youth, who spent time reflecting, praying, chatting when they were supposed to be silent, and writing their confessions. We ventured to the courtyard. We sang, prayed, and set our papers aflame.
I don't know if you've ever used flash paper, but it's pretty fun stuff. When you set a corner of the paper on fire, it burns brightly for an instant. The key is letting go at just the right moment. POOF! The paper is engulfed with one or two flames before disappearing completely. No ash. No residue. Nothing remains.
We went around the circle. "Cool!" one person exclaimed. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. "I'm scared!" another said. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. "Whoa, stand back!" In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
My turn finally arrived. My paper began to glow. I had to let go.