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.


Jennifer said...

Oh this is just beautiful, Jennifer. Your words have a powerful grace about them. I'm grateful that you are a writer.

Jen said...

Thanks Jennifer...the encouragement is MUCH appreciated.