My Uneasy Relationship with Ash Wednesday

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might remember me writing about my difficulty attending my first Ash Wednesday Service. Since writing this, I have also buried my Dad.  I still haven’t been to another Ash Wednesday service.  I will spend time with Jesus each day and see where we go together.  And I have orderedunhurryUp! into Easter: A Lenten  Pilgrimage,” recommended by a couple good friends from last year who know about my uneasy relationship with Lent, especially Ash Wednesday. I originally wrote this in 2012.

And no, my cactus has not bloomed again in February!

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This year on Ash Wednesday, I rejoiced in an “out of season bloom” from the cactus on my windowsill as God’s gift of Life and Beauty to me on a day that is to remind us of our mortality.

lenten cactus 2

2012 was my first experience of living the Church year within a church community, although I have been experiencing my own Lenten meditations and readings for the last 4-5 years in my personal quiet times.  Ash Wednesday ushers in the season of Lent. Ruth Haley Barton explains it this way: “As we receive the symbolic gesture of the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, we acknowledge our human finiteness and mortality. No matter who we think we are, receiving the ashes reminds us that, “You are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). This is not meant to be morbid; it is just meant to limit our grandiosity and help us to stay in touch with the real human condition we all share.”

With anticipation I attended my first Ash Wednesday service last year – an opportunity for me to live into this new experience. As it turned out, this first venture into Ash Wednesday was difficult for me. I was troubled – no, angry at death, angry at having it front and center. I was sad, once again tossed around by a wave of grief I didn’t expect as I grieved the losses I have experienced. The last thing I needed was a reminder of my mortality. I am all too aware of my mortality and the mortality of others. I also felt bad – maybe even a little guilty at my responses.

Months later I shared this with David Fitch, one of our pastors who helped my understand my reactions. By the time Ash Wednesday rolled around last year, I had been living my own “Ash Wednesday.”

August through early January is marked by the death anniversary and birthday of  my mother and the  three siblings  I have lost – Gordon, Ronnie and Baby Brenda Jane –   These times are always days  I stop to “remember.” Sometimes they are harder than others, but I always remember. Being in a service that focused on reminding me that I am dust and will return to dust sent me to a sad, dark place. I am all too aware of my mortality. David helped me see I had been having my own Ash Wednesday and reassured me that I did not need to feel shame about my reactions.

Had I been able to hear God speak that night in the Ash Wednesday service, I think I would have heard him say: “I know…I understand.”

So when I was greeted on this Ash Wednesday morning by the exquisite beauty of the cactus that has never bloomed this time of the year before, I was comforted. While we are mortals, Christ is our immortality and that is enough for me.

I suspect I will again attend an Ash Wednesday service, but for now, I am OK letting God hold me and comfort me on days when I am reminded of my losses, telling me He knows and understands, attuning Himself to me.

I love that about the God I love and serve.