Thursday, February 26, 2009

Inviting you to an observance of a holy Lent

Ash Wednesday was yesterday. The theme: penitence and mortality. Mortality is the tougher of the two for me. Those who are terminally ill, diagnosed by a medical professional as having some ailment that will mean their end, stand before me. Maybe some of their fellow church goers know of their situation--most probably do not. But I know. They stand before me and nod ever so slightly. I plunge my thumb down into the ashes and place it upon their bowed foreheads. I say, as I make the sign of the cross, the sign of death, "Remember you are ashes, and to ashes you will return." A tear forms in the corner of my eye. They do not notice, they are lost in the meaning of those words as well.

Next a young mother, holding her infant, is before me. She presents the child to recieve the ashes. I make the mark and tell the newborn, "Remember you are ashes, and to ashes you will return."

A teenager comes forward, unable to fathom mortality--I look into their eyes and know that they believe themselves invincible and life unending and the future open-wide--eternal. They smile a shy smile and nod. I place the ashes upon them and say, "Remember you are ashes, and to ashes you will return." They smile again as they turn to leave, thinking about the homework they must finish before they go to bed and wondering why I had a tear in my eye when they first approached the altar. On the way back down the isle, they pause for a moment to quietly play with the infant with the ashes on its forehead. The terminally ill smile at the scene, with tears in their eyes.

The theme of Ash Wednesday is penitence and mortality. I know. I went to seminary. But I must tell you, for me it always ends up being about grief--greiving my wretchedness, greiving our wretchedness (just watch the news tonight)--and grieving, making silent laments, for the fragility and shortness of life.


BillyBudd said...

Teach us to number our days, that we may apply ourselves to wisdom. Ps. 90.

Katherine said...

Left me much to think about, but truly thinking of you and the empathetic burdens you carry with so much grace.