9-11-2020: Remembering beauty for ashes

Today, September 11, 2020, marks the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC. In addition, the nation pauses to remember the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi where four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. On such solemn occasions, we look for rays of hope, like radiant beams of light that penetrate plumes of dust and debris on that fateful day, September 11, 2001. This morning I thought of the passage from Isaiah 61:3:

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Today, we reflect upon God’s amazing ability to transform the most horrific circumstances into a glorious display of His wisdom, power, and might. The expression “beauty for ashes” from Isaiah 61:3 offers a series of such transformations or exchanges that only He can give. That particular verse introduces this original poem with that title:

Beauty for Ashes

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3


Beauty for ashes–we are transformed to testify
Of lives so radically changed that we might glorify
The God of Heaven who touches the earth with His love
That overflows with bountiful blessings from above.
We are blessed and highly favored–no one can deny.

That we should be chosen by God some may wonder why,
But none can fathom God’s grace, no matter how they try.
Ascend into God’s presence on the wings of a dove:
Beauty for ashes.

Many times it may seem as if life has passed us by,
But God is faithful; on Him, we can always rely.
Nothing in this life surpasses God’s unchanging love;
It is far beyond all that we could ask or think of.
Remember that God is not a man that He should lie:
Beauty for ashes.

I also recall having completed another poem containing a reference to Isaiah 61:3. Shortly after writing the poem, I was asked to officiate at a funeral service and do the eulogy for someone who had not been affiliated with a local church. It was an unusual service for me in that for the first time the individual being eulogized had been cremated. On a table in front of the mortuary was an urn that contained the ashes of the deceased. As it turned out, this was the perfect occasion for sharing the previously composed poem with the line “Just as from ashes, beauty and splendor arise.” The poem also contains a theme related to God with whom all things are possible and with whom nothing is impossible.

No Matter How You Phrase It

And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men, it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible
Mark 10:27

For with God, nothing shall be impossible.
Luke 1:37


There is none like God who never fails to come through:
Whether you say “With God all things are possible”
Or say “With God, nothing shall be impossible.”
No matter how you phrase it, the Word is still true.
As those who observe the times, we wisely surmise
That the Prince of Peace ascended to end all strife,
Leading captive even death to release new life.
Just as from ashes, beauty and splendor arise,
We boldly declare the Word of God and assert
The Providence of an all-wise Father who makes
Barrenness to bloom with rivers in the desert.
With the Word of Life, even death itself awakes.
We seek to walk in wisdom and number our days,
Humbly discerning that His ways are not our ways.

In addition to reading the poem as part of the eulogy, I also commented about the beauty of gemstones that are formed from volcanic ash. Did you know that ashes in volcanoes under extreme heat and pressure provide the perfect conditions to form certain precious stones, such as diamonds? As the volcanoes erupt, they push the gemstones to the surface where they can be seen after the site has cooled. So, indeed, God both figuratively and literally “gives beauty for ashes.”

Crystal Lewis and Ron Kenoly offer a tender rendition of the song “Beauty for Ashes.”

On the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, we recall God’s amazing power to transform an unimaginable disaster into a glorious display of His power and grace to restore.

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