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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Reflections

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I feel the thumb that marks my forehead, grimy with oil and ashes. It's a visceral ritual - I feel my own death hovering in , under, and through my being. Twice each year I am jolted into an examination of my own mortality; brought face to face with the reminder that I will someday die. You are reading this on Ash Wednesday, one of those days. The other, the day I began writing this devotion, is All Saints Day. Doubt and fear assail me on these days. have I done enough, been enough, loved enough? Will anyone remember me if I should die tomorrow? Is that vanity? Humanity? I look deep into the doubt, the fear, the vanity, and the frailty of being human. I think about the unthinkable in the company of saints - those gone before me and those beside me in the pew. I hate it; I love it.

These holy days are gifts. Days steeped in ritual and marked with symbolism to help me face the unthinkable: I will die someday. Like alarms set on my phone to remind me of meetings and appointments, they sound a warning: you have to die someday. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." And there, in the injunction to remember and return, I find the boundaries of my life in the bookends of All Saints and Ash Wednesday. All Saints calls me to remember, to stop and revisit those who have gone on before me; to recall those I miss, those I loved, and those I never want to forget; to remember that I belong to a community that transcends liner time. In years to come, it will call others to remember, long after I am gone. Some of them will remember me.

The other boundary, Ash Wednesday, enjoins me to return: to return to dust, but also to "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. . ." I return to the one who made me from dust in the first place. I return to the one who loves me steadfastly across all borders of time and space and who loves me enough to have voluntarily gone where I fear to go: to death.

Ash Wednesday rightfully marks the beginning of the Lenten journey. Without contemplating my own death, I can be tempted to minimize the love that was shown to me in Jesus' death. It is in facing my own fear of death that I come to appreciate all that follows. And so I return, year after year, to have ashes imposed on my forehead; to look in the mirror and see myself marked for death, and then journey with Jesus as he steadfastly walks toward his own death, for me.Only from that visceral place can I fully appreciate the magnitude of the sacrifice Jesus made and the magnificence of his resurrection.

This entry was originally written for Triumphant Love Lutheran's annual Lenten devotional and is based on the one of the texts for this day Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

1 comment:

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"Without contemplating my own death, I can be tempted to minimize the love that was shown to me in Jesus' death. It is in facing my own fear of death that I come to appreciate all that follows."

Very tough to follow that. That's where faith comes in. I missed the services on Ash Wednesday this year. First year in many. Hmmmmm. Plodding on.