Archive for February, 2016

posted by Amy on Feb 11

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I had schedule conflicts during both of the times I had planned to go to a service, so I didn’t make it to a public celebration, but several times throughout the day I stopped and thought about “from dust were you made and to dust you will return.”

On Ash Wednesday I always hear Joni Mitchell’s voice in my head singing, “We are stardust, we are golden, we are million year old carbon, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” My wonderful Philadelphia church, Arch Street United Methodist, adds golden flecks to the ashes used to trace crosses on the hands or foreheads of the faithful who come in at noon. When God sent Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden, he told them they were made of dust and would return to it, but first he made them clothes to wear. Yes, we are mortal, fallible, imperfect, impermanent, but we are also God’s beloved creatures and we all participate, in some mysterious way, in the continuing act of creation. Yes, my mortal body will someday breathe its last. Since I have stage iv cancer, that day may not be far off. But the world will keep turning, and the sun will keep rising and setting, and the love I have experienced and shared will continue to send ripples out through the Universe, touching, influencing, molding reality as it unfolds.

Lent is for penance, prayer, contemplation, slowing down, simplifying, remembering. It’s so easy to get caught up in obligations and projects, in cares and concerns, in worries and fears. Lent reminds me to attend first to the important, then to the urgent. The one thing I know for sure is that from dust I was made and to dust I shall return. With that out of the way, I can seek a full, beautiful, meaningful mortal life. With that understanding, I can cultivate compassion for others, and for myself. We’re all going to die. And until we die we’re all going to keep experiencing loss, suffering, pain, illness, and misfortune. Ash Wednesday reminds me to cultivate love, friendship, creativity, beauty, and radical acceptance in the here and now, while I have the chance, while I yet have breath.

To be human is to be conscious of both what endures for all time and what does not. Ash Wednesday reminds us of that. My body is merely chemical and electrical processes driven by genes. The mostly-carbon composition of my body is unremarkable. I live on a planet teaming with carbon-based life forms who have been recycling and restructuring the basic building blocks of life for untold eons. But on a personal, human, temporal level I, as the Psalmist said, “am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I can think. I can sing. I can experience the thrill of indescribable beauty–in nature, in art, in music, in putting myself in motion. Four new human beings came to life inside of me and are alive because I, and my mother before me, and her mother before her, all the way back, lived, loved, and brought forth new life, which will, in its turn, die someday. It is utterly appropriate to put gold flecks in the ashes.

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