Friday, March 7, 2014

Awareness of Ashiness

I have written before about being an ash smudger on Ash Wednesday; for example, see this post, where I said, "I smudged each forehead at the back of the church, and when we were done, I walked to the altar with my little pot of ashes.  I turned to go back to my seat and felt breathless at the sight of the whole sanctuary full of smudged foreheads."

On Wednesday, I was an ash smudger again.  I was at the front of the church where people came up and knelt at the rail or stood.  I smudged each forehead and felt this overwhelming tenderness.

This year felt different from past years.  There have been years where I've felt surrounded by wreckage.  This is not one of those years.  But I am in an Ash Wednesday frame of mind, which I wrote about in this blog post:  "I am wrestling with profound sadness this year, a sadness which is both part of the human condition (everything we love will be lost!) and unique to me (colleagues gone, teachers gone, houses and offices gone, writing projects slipped away, lonely, lost, lonely, lonely, lonely)."

A few weeks ago, I heard about a former colleague who has pancreatic cancer and isn't likely to be with us next year.  Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, I got the news that my favorite undergraduate English professor died. 

As parishioners came forward, I realized how many of us are in tenuous situations:  OK for now, but fearful of the cancer that may come back, the depression that may roar up, family members causing heartache, on and on I could go.

I realize that in many ways, my realization is part of the whole purpose of Ash Wednesday, to remind us that life is short and uncertain.  Some years, that realization is more sobering than others.  This year I felt shaken to my shoes.

Now to use that Ash Wednesday insight to move me to more gratitude.  Now to use that awareness of our impending ashiness to prompt me to work on projects.  Let me remember to tell everyone how much I love them, while they are still here to hear those words.

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