Friday, February 23, 2007


We walk through the town square, the church bells an antiphon to our rushed drive downtown. I think that as long as churches ring their bells, there is reason to be alive. Those bells bring majesty to the public doman, glory to the void of city rhythm. A man on the street corner bellows, his face pink, his eyes brimming with scriptural ammo: "It is only by grace that you are saved!!! Those ashes on your forehead cannot save you! Repent for the day is near..." He's partly right, but he's wrong about the ashes.

Ash Wednesday found us in St. Paul's Cathedral, kneeling at the altar, getting our foreheads dirty. There was a different message than the one we'd just heard on the street. This one reminded us to beware of religiosity, and of showing off our feeble attempts at righteousness. (Close the door, do this in secret.) These were softer words, rising up to a vaulted ceiling where the they formed little gold nets for our prayers. "Remember," he says to me, "that you are dust and to dust you shall return." He says this to ten, fifty, one-hundred people kneeled alongside me. He puts ashes on wrinkled, brown, smooth, and cream foreheads alike. The same words, spoken to many but new to each. The translation of Job I just read for Mysticism class ends with this .. . comforted that I am dust.

Why ashes, anyway? Why something so tangible, and yet so fleeting? (Gone, with a puff, like a seeded dandelion.) Before our time, people would recognize mourners by the ashes on their faces. The ashes showed that in their sadness the mourners had neglected the daily household duty of keeping the ashes in the fireplace under control. Today it might seem religious to walk around sporting ashes on your forehead. Like some kind of cross around your neck, icon-emblazoned t-shirt,
tattooed Buddha on your arm. But there was a time when it was just inevitable. The stuff of trying to live, and work, and be human. Again I am surprised at the dailyness of of life and faith.

This spot of ash. I bent too low I hit the earth; old fire, powdered terra. The solid remains of fire touching my skin. What will not be burned, gracing my skin. We springboard into Lent (lenct, germanic root word for Spring), with sunshine on our shoulders and darkness on our faces. We are grateful to be light and dust.

Monday, February 19, 2007

better than tylenol sinus

I think I’m finally kicking this cold. It began a few weeks ago, tentatively clinging to my sinuses, but as of the last few days has descended confidently into my throat and chest. Colds are the illness no one ever wants to hear you whine about. They’re as mundane as what you had for breakfast—only your significant other cares. (A little.) And so, I send my complaints out into the anonymous network of compassion: A blog post, like a faded fluttering prayer flag, beating its tired fibres against gusts of Himalayan air. Yes, that’s me.

Fighting a cold takes many forms: Tea with lemon, yoga, knitting, lots of sleep, skipping classes. But there are also some unconventional tonics: hockey games and beer, chilly walks around town tramping through snowdrifts, spicy ceasars, swordfish with homemade citrus pesto (thanks to a belated Valentines Day feast prepared by my resident chef).

Today the doctor prescribed snowshoeing at Green Lakes: pure rejuvenation to a cooped-up soul who has seen too much of her walls and the insides of mugs. The snow that fell over the past week has settled into each crease of tree and rock. It is a blue-white wash out, pocked with the colour of proud evergreens. Our snowshoes keep us near the surface, but on some of the really soft expanses, the snow pulls us in like a feather bed. We cut new trails; it doesn’t look like many have been here since the snowfall. Boughs and branches lean over our path, heavy with their burden of frozen water. My heart-rate quickens as particles of fallen seas resist my stride. I let them fall easily off the contraptions strapped to my feet. I breathe in air clean as menthol—it passes through me, fighting my puny cold with nature’s Cold. The sun had become a stranger, but today it returns to bless the passing of winter. It mingles with fresh shards of outdoor air, forming an elixir that just might scare this sickness right out of me.

Contrary to the old wives’ tales, I would highly recommend going outside when you have a cold.