Why the ashes?
For a lot of reasons, but for me, this year, this one:
Because of death.
Death: that thing which I cannot ignore away, try as I might,
Looking the other way, but being shaken nonetheless at loss, over and over again:
-Mitch Albom’s daughter, Chika
–Nightbirde whose song about strength I listened to over and over on my summertime playlist
-Brooklyn from Brooklyn’s Journey Home
-Betty White, just shy of 100 years
-and….my grandmother, the woman whose face I see when my Zoom camera catches the wrinkles forming on the bottom of my face.
And I know more, too. I know that it will take my parents.
And my siblings. And that a part of me will die when each of them does, too.
And I know that I, too, will die, because none of us can will our hearts or our breaths or our brain’s waves, and eventually my time will come and perhaps I’ll be buried under a rocks whose letters will fade and melt with time, forgotten like all of the gravestones in the cemetary where I walk each November.
I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Fr. Paul on Ash Wednesday, “Remember you are dust,” I said, tracing ashes on one hundred foreheads, “…and to dust you shall return.”
Adults. Children. Babies. Tiny, squishy, fat babies, who will live much longer than I, learn much more than I, with their fat dimpled faces marked with this reminder of their own mortality, the pain they will know at the hands of death.
We have no power over this.
This is the message of Ash Wednesday: death is real. And I will die.
There is another part.
And that’s the shape that is drawn.
It’s a cross.
For the Christ who was tired of His people powerless over death.
So He came.
He entered our world–our powerlessness over death.
And…He was stronger. Stronger than death.
Death tried, and Jesus did die, after all, on a cross–that sign that we use.
But then, also, He came back.
Death is no longer our slaveowner, we have been freed…if we want.
At the end of Mass Father Paul shared with us: if anyone asks–why the cross?–you could say, the ashes remind me that we are sinners in need of God; the cross reminds me that I belong to Him.
This, the sign under which we stand: the ashes because death is real…but so is God. And love. And eternity.
God is real. And I belong to Him. And so I stand, under this sign, that will save me even as it demands everything from me, while promising more than I can ask or imagine.
Hello, Beauty that shakes me.