“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Those are the words typically spoken by the pastor, deacon or administrant while spreading ashes on the foreheads of the penitents gathered for Ash Wednesday services- at least at Episcopal Churches.
This year I didn’t make it to church, so the only thing on my forehead is a bit of mosturizer and foundation. But today didn’t go unmarked. My daily doodle reflected my thoughts, and Hillsong played while me and Z did her lessons this afternoon.
I kept thinking about that sentence- “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s so… bleak. It’s our lives entwined so with our inevitable deaths.
Ashes are made from palms leftover from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. They’re burned and mixed up with some oil. So much meaning there. What was used to celebrate and shout “Hosanna” one year become’s the following year’s symbol of mortality.
The verses read for the liturgy are full of solemn beseeching:
“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.” Joel 2:12-13
This morning I watched the Frontline documentary “Being Mortal“. It follows a doctor, Atul Gawande, as he interviews other doctors who deal with critically ill patients. We also meet a few of those patients and their families. During filming, Dr. Gawande learns that his own father is seriously ill with cancer. After spending years dealing with ailing patients and their loved ones, he finds himself unexpectedly on the other side of the desk.
It’s harrowing TV. Over the course of an hour, all of the patients rapidly decline. Their faces grow gaunt, their posture stoops and eventually they’re bedridden. The families remain by their sides, alternately hoping for a miracle or sobbing at the impending end. All of the patients are dead by the time the documentary comes to a close.
I know more than a few Christians who belong to traditions, denominations or churches that don’t observe Lent. The whole thing is viewed at best, with skepticism, at worst, with derision.
It’s so glum, so dark, so sad. I agree, although it’s not entirely dark clouds. There are silver linings… little glimpses of light of what’s ahead, of death’s defeat.
“Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.” Psalm 103:15-16
Usually during Lent I give up something- alcohol, sweets, junk food, Facebook, meat. This year, I’ve decided to add. Everyday I’m going to do a post on here. No lie, this will probably be harder than all those other years. Besides doing lessons with Zoe, I started an online Modern Art History class last week that’s going to run for the next couple of months. It’s not for credit, but I don’t have any intention of wasting money, and it demands a couple of hours (at least every week). Not every Lenten post will be this long, but I do want them all to be imbued with the spirit of the season. So at least 39 more entries are a-coming, and a quick reminder that Sundays aren’t included in the 40 days. Below is the Frontline documentary. Watch it if you get a chance and remember to keep the people who appeared in the film in prayer.