Ash Wednesday, 2023. Spring is whispering its arrival with rain and unusual warmth. Every day feels a little bit more like a rising up, out of the interruptive prism of Covid and lockdowns. We are through it but not beyond it; maybe, then, we are still in it?
I sit in the grace of a slow morning; time to think, time to breathe. Even so, I feel the shame of the habitual Reaching for the 6-inches of plastic and LED light that seems to guide my days and my schedule and my thoughts and, dare I say, every bit of my life.
I hate my phone.
I love my phone.
I begin this season of Lent without the opportunity for the imposition of ashes in community (although, to be completely honest, I could have gone to a 7AM service. It didn’t take long to come up with a million reasons to decline. I choose the bed instead), and so I must find my ashes and the somber intonation of confessed inadequacy here, myself.
I touch my forehead, pressing into the skin, feeling the sheen of my unwashed face, the firm bone of my forehead, and I wonder: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
To dust I will return.
I walked with a friend last week who talked about her fascination with death. Prompted by devastating loss, she moved towards the darkness rather than away to safety, discovering along the way the small charm of ‘memento mori’ – living always with our death before us. She told me: “My husband said if I buy one more book about death…”
She’s digging in, holding hands with her fear and her grief and all the things that clutter up our vision. Only she knows what she will see, because only she will see it.
We each carry the brilliance of significance, of a unique light, of purpose; you matter. We all matter.
And yet we don’t matter. We all will die; our bodies will decay, we will return to dust.
How do we live in light of such a thing? Everyday striving, working, pushing ourselves to create, to build, to earn, to do – knowing that in the end, we will simply be gone from this earth?
It’s easy to become complacent, to live in denial, to reach for a vacant immortality and pretend we are more than we are. But I am finding, that pretext, more and more, to be incomplete. At times, I would say I have begun to lean towards heaven, towards the leaving of this place for another. I’m yearning for the truth, and discovering that even hard truths are better than cheap lies. My life is richer and broader and more precious when held loosely.
The editors of Bread and Wine write:
Spiritual masters often refer to a kind of “dread,” the nagging sense that we have missed something important and have been somehow untrue – to ourselves, to others, to God. Lent is a good time to confront the source of that feeling.Bread and Wine
That resonates; there is a dread that surfaces in minor waves, just enough to upset my equilibrium. I want, I hope, I intend this Lenten season to be imbued with openness to truth; about myself, about others, about God. Hands that are open, to anything and everything. This is a daily practice that would serve me well, I think.
Jesus Christ is the focal point; the resurrection seems to be the great resolution of the intricacies of the Lenten journey. The hope found in the ribbon of belief in something so outrageously supernatural is meant to be the prize; forty days of denial, and then we embrace rejoicing. There is truth in that process, of course; but, for me, these last few years of seeking have revealed a depth and breadth to the person of Jesus that brings the supernatural into every moment of every day. The wonder is there before the cross, before the excited shouts of He is not here! He is risen! – plumbed throughout every moment of every day, which is a wonder in itself.
I am walking this Lenten journey in the here and now, not waiting for the culmination, but sensing in every step the awe, the wonder, the grace of a gift held loosely. I am not alone.