it’s ash wednesday
As you know, Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days to prepare for his ministry. It was for Him a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation. By observing Lent, most Christians join Jesus on His retreat. Lent consists of the forty days before Easter, not counting Sundays, because they are always the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the first day of Lent is always a Wednesday. In ancient times, people marked times of fasting, prayer, repentance, and remorse by placing ashes on their foreheads, as in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26…
For me, however, Anne Lamott does a much better job:
My father’s ashes have poured through my fingers like sand. So have my friend Pammy’s. I poured their ashes off sailboats out on San Francisco Bay. I poured my father’s into the water near Angel Island, late at night, but I was very drunk. And I tossed a handful of Pammy’s into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day, with her husband and family, when I had been sober several years. And the second time I was able to see, because it was daytime and I was sober, the deeply contradictory nature of ashes, that they are both so heavy and so light. They’re impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater. I licked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed, burnt away. They tasted metallic, and they blew every which way. We tried to strew them off the side of a boat, romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on shore, under a true blue sky, but they would not cooperate. They rarely will. It’s frustrating if you are hoping to have a happy ending, or at least a little closure, a movie moment when you toss them into the air and they flutter and disperse. But they don’t. They cling, they haunt. They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.
I don’t know what Ash wednesday means to me yet. I remember wanting to be the person to light the palm fronds (I’ve always been a closet pyro), and I can feel the wierd almost wet feeling of the ashes being formed into a cross on my forehead all those years. But I can’t say it has ever meant anything.
Tonight, I’m going to smoke a cigar and ponder those ashes for a while.