Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ash to Ash Wednesday

Dear Anne GG,

I am remembering, this week, that powerful article you wrote, entitled Ash Wednesday. May I post a link to that? (She said "Yes.") I am remembering because it was, last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.

Growing up Baptist, and even more than that, growing up in the “fundamentalist” tradition, Ash Wednesday lacked symbolic meaning to me. Lent lacked meaning. It fell into the black hole, no, under the skirts of the great whore of the Apocalypse, that we were taught to avoid at all costs. So, it wasn’t until a few years ago and a number of life shapeshifts from then, when I began participating in services at an Episcopal church that I engaged with the idea of Ash Wednesday.

Why indeed should we, every year, forty days (plus Sundays*), before the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox, take on the sign of mourning?

“Ash to ash, dust to dust”, they say, and with two flicks of a thumb the mark of death attaches itself to our foreheads. And we are on our knees saying, “Yes.”

We have taken on a sign of mourning. We are engaging symbolically with our mortality and the mortality that God in Jesus took upon himself.

Now, as my obsession with requiems might signal, I am not one to miss the fact that one day I will die. I fret about it, I embrace it. I am not one who is confused that perhaps I am the one person in the universe who will achieve immortality. So Ash Wednesday fits my personality. I get it. It is time to mourn. It is time to fast, for the Savior of the universe is about to die, and not only that, my own sin, which I engage in actively and deliberately, implicates me in the Lord’s demise.

God knows how we are formed,
Remembering that we are dust.
All flesh is as grass,
Flourishing like a dandelion in the field;
And when the wind picks up and blows over,
It is gone.
And even the dirt that gave birth to it,
Remembers it no more.

You betcha I mourn.
And I’ll fast and pray, hoping for light and life in forty days.

May your month be full of meaning,


*Note: Something I learned from my priest and friend, SuZanne, is that you don’t mourn on Sunday. That day the symbol of resurrection takes precedence over the symbol of mourning.


cadh 8 said...

Yes, Sunday is a "free day". Many of my friends look forward to the soda they will get to drink and the eating out they will get to do on these days. Our blessings have made us fat and weigh us down at times!

Just wanted to comment on your obsession with requims and focus on mourning that you put in this post. I can remember one Sunday night service where you were assigned to the little kids nursery. There is not a lot of action in that room, so you had brought a book with you to fill the time. The book was called "A Happy Death". Dad wouldn't let you bring it in.
**Note to feminists reading this. When I say "Would not let" I don't mean repression. I mean that there is an understanding in married people's relationships that there are things we do not do because it would hurt the relationship we have with our significant others, not because we are not allowed. Just wanted to clarify.**

But I digress. I remember feeling so strange that it could be offensive to think or contemplate death at church. Maybe there were other problems with the book, but it felt to me that dad didn't want people to know you were sort of morbid, even then.

Love you mom, and I look forward to my own growth as I give my first 30 minutes of the day to scripture as my own 40 day commitment.

brd said...

Cadh 8, I love your comments and note of clarification. Yes, A Happy Death, I remember that. Perhaps it bothered dad because the author was an existentialist and he thought people wouldn't understand my interest in that. But, really, would those Christian Missionary Alliance folks have known? I'm thinking no for most of them.

Currently, I am trying to force myself to finish Albert's book, The Plague. For some reason I keep trailing off to other books--I'm on a Moroccan literature kick right now best exemplified by a very nice little tome by Laila Lalani entitled (and I love this title) Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. But I digress, too.

I hope that I am not just morbid, but that my engagement with death is an engagement with life too and that which makes life meaningful. The existentialist twist in my thinking does not lead me to hopelessness, but to that Kierkegaardian leap of faith over the precipice of uncertainty to the hope of meaning.

But let me continue this later on Sapphire Quilt where I want to comment on your letter to me.



Anne G G said...

I'm so super behind on your blog. Feel free to post Ash Wednesday; I'd like to re-read it myself.

Ash Wednesday passed me by, and I didn't even know til I saw someone with a "weird bruise" at mid-day, then realized it wasn't a bruise at all. The pace of this city is much too fast. I'll have to pencil in (ugh) some lenten time for contemplation and stillness.

On the other hand, my hospital-bound thesis play includes a good chunk of reflection on death and mortality. Maybe I've inherited a bit of that . . .