Ashes Again

It’s Ash Wednesday again. I made my way to the church and sat through mass under a black lace veil, filtering the prayers and the teaching like possibly tainted water. My chosen instrument, a wise quote meant to purify.

“One of the greatest sins is the unlived life.”

So as the ritual unfolded of asking for forgiveness and mercy, somehow there was a gentleness instead of a shame that filled the space around me. This happened not because someone else was leading me, but because my own soul was. It’s been a painful yet necessary shift giving myself permission and learning to trust my soul knows what is true and best for itself.

Forgive me for listening to people who taught false, incriminating heavy and weighty endless rules that oppressed instead of freed my soul. Forgive me for dimming the light I was made from. Forgive me for abandoning the child in me. Forgive me for accepting guilt and shame every time I chose me over what someone else thought I should do. Forgive me for not trusting my God given intuition. Forgive me for believing I am less than what I was created to be.

The forgiveness came before the end of each thought.

Scripture was read about caring for the widow and orphan. How will the priest handle this? I’ve yet to experience anything other than discomfort and avoidance. Somehow he connected that admonition to care for the most vulnerable to the silent contributor who fixed the church’s heating and air conditioning, making a public thank you to a mysterious someone sitting in a pew. Did I miss the scripture about consoling those who are uncomfortable with the air temperature?

Who is this man? Why does he do what he is doing? I really have very little expectations anymore, I’m too sad and tired for that. Why am I here?

I stare into the radiantly colorful scene of Jesus pleading to be released from suffering, knowing that it is said he was in such pain that blood seeped from his pores. My artist heart receives beauty and comfort and memory from the story in the glass.

That’s right, for ashes, and to feel less alone in this suffering. That’s why I am choosing to be here.

Holding my beloved’s ashes, ashes painfully etched into my skin, I walked to the front, ready to receive more ashes on my forehead and to agree with the idea of repentance, of turning away from that which is unholy toward that which is.

What am I to turn from now?

This feels holy, to let that question float like a smoke filled balloon rising from the ash ready to hover in front of me for 40 days. It feels holy and sinless to know I can scream the question if I need to. While the answer to “whom, what, where shall I turn to?” feels gray and colorful all at once.

Then the priest encouraged everyone to go out joyfully being ambassadors for Christ. I felt a bit confused and uncomfortable with his admonition. Did he forget this is the first of forty days of remembrance leading to unnecessary and unjust suffering? Does he remember the bloody sweat drenched prayer? Does he remember there’s a cross coming on this road? Could he have acknowledged there is a time to weep and a time for joy?

It did seem to be a perfect 68 degrees in the building.

Driving away, I listened to a kindred soul in conversation about what Lent is. A communal time of acknowledging suffering, pain, and injustice. It was a beautiful peek into two ladies’ lives who found great comfort in their faith communities who held them up, not for a week or a month, but indefinitely, in tangible ways. They described individuals who stepped up and showed up and kept doing that.

I thought gratefully of the few who are aware I am still very much in an unrelenting Lent of grief.

I found my way to a local cemetery that I’ve visited several times over the years. All the stones are weatherworn, the rod iron is bent and rusted and retaining walls are crumbling. I’ve walked the paths curiously and I’ve walked the paths weeping.

Wandering through a cemetery where all the end dates are almost a century old can give the very false impression that death only used to happen to people.

Most of the stones are beautifully carved with the names and dates of the loved ones and most of them proclaim claim “Native of __” Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Prussia, Mexico. They came when there was gold to be found in these hills. They are the wanderers who followed the wind of change to new possibilities and allowed themselves to discover the unknown. But their sense of belonging was where they first touched the earth, where their personalities were conditioned and the tones and hues of their souls were painted, where golden dreams were dreamed and childhood memories still live. When it came time to leave this earth, the priceless treasure of that belonging is what was chosen to be etched into stone for these souls.

Be longing- longing to BE

in the midst of these ashes, and desperate prayers, and unfurling holiness

in the midst of my unending Lent, where I wasn't asked what I'd chose to give up, and my heart bleeds tears continually

the questions of turning to and belonging smolder and wait for the wind

“The dream of your life has been dreamed from eternity. You belong within a great embrace that urges you to have the courage to honour the immensity that sleeps in your heart. When you learn to listen to and trust the wisdom of your soul's longing, you will awaken to the invitation of graced belonging that inhabits the generous depths of your destiny. You will become aware of the miracle of presence within and around you.” John O’Donohue


"To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die"