The Gift of the Ashes



Walking the dog this morning in a neighborhood frosted by snow. My highly attuned yellow lab/squirrel dog is always a little freaked out by the change of pace, the stark quiet. Last night’s threatening ice has brought the school buses, harried drivers late for work and noise pollution from the interstate to a hush. Robins, cardinals, blue jays, mockingbirds, finches, crows and blackbirds pierce the air with song as they have all come out from their hiding places to find today’s crumbs of bread.

We all yearn for spring, for the thaw,  with its fluorescent green and goldenrod. In the doldrums of the long winter, we are oblivious to spring’s surprises, her thunderstorms and her turbulent tornadoes. We are not ready for what we love. We’re living in a new normal. More ice, more snow, more fire, more wind, less rain and more rain than ever before. More heat will come with summer, more than we think we can bear.

The world is a beautiful and terrifying place all the time and it is where I belong. I belong to the earth, to the rivers, lakes and oceans, to the wind and the air, to the fires that rage, they are all me and I am them. In this biosphere, space ship earth that we are living on, we all get recycled. We are reminded of this on Ash Wednesday, how very recyclable we are. I will say, as I take my finger and smudge it in some dust, push back the hair of those who have come from their precious brows and make the sign of a cross, “from ashes you came and to ashes you shall return.” It’s a sobering reminder that we are all connected through our very birth and death to one another, to creation, that all things capable of life are in fact, in one form or another, still living.

This comforts me.

I overheard two older men in a coffee shop this morning talking about “little deaths.” One of them was a Wise Old Man, Philosopher in Mediation by RembrandtI could tell, he was the one giving the advice to the man who was facing cancer. He talked about the “little deaths” in the form of all the things we lose, the car keys, the wallet, the life we once had, a loved one, our mobility, our freedom. He then said something about attunement. I became aware that I was eavesdropping and then stopped listening, though I could not help but smile. Attunement is simply the act of bringing all things into harmony. This WOM was trying to help the other find harmony in the act of living and dying. It was a beautiful thing to experience, the exchange of loving and caring in the act of comforting through truthfulness and wisdom.

Each day, we have something to give to someone along the way; a smile, a word of encouragement, an expression of hope. Think of all the things the world gives you without ever asking for anything in return. The sun shines, as does the moon, creating day and night, we love the contrast of light and dark and the beautiful moments as it changes. The earth brings food, creation brings rain and all the things that are needed for the conditions of life are provided for us for free. How much more we can offer the earth and one another when we live each day in the mindfulness that we belong to an order much greater than ourselves, and yet we have been invited to experience it, to become attuned to its natural rhythm, to rescue creation, each in our own small way, from the damages done.

This week, to those of us who receive the mark of the cross and follow the Christ on that journey of life and death and resurrection, let us meditate on that phrase, “From ashes you came and to ashes you shall return.” Let it be a reminder that though our bodies belong to the earth, our spirits were meant to soar and we belong to a greater gift than we  could ever give, made real to us in so many ways, every day.  The gift of life unending, the gift of the ashes.

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Speaker, Author, Musician, Pastor, Nature Lover. Co-Founder of the Social Enterprise: Dreamweave: Renew Lives, Recyle Products;

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