Buechner: Lent Ash Wednesday
“In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year's income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year's days.” Frederick Buechner, “Lent,” Originally published in Whistling in the Dark: Doubter’s Dictionary, “(Harper&Row, 1988) p. 82.
We begin our Lenten journey on this Ash Wednesday. It is a day to remember our mortality, "dust you are and to dust you shall return." I think of my favorite aunt who had Alzheimer's for over ten years who died today on Ash Wednesday.
I watch the members of our parish receive the imposition of ashes. Some have cancer or are ill, and I know well they worry whether they will be present in this body at this church next Ash Wednesday. Some are filled with tears at the altar. I wonder who will meet death face to face before next Easter. Could it be even myself or a member of my family?
I travel in time back to the Cathedral School where I remember comments from the elementary students as we placed ashes on their foreheads. “Will it stay on? How do I look? You look funny.” Now a beautiful young mother holding her three-month old baby girl comes up to the altar. Our priest puts the sign of the cross on the mother's forehead. I do not want her to put the cross on this baby's head. I watch as she asks the mother and then puts the black ashes on the tiny forehead. The little girl does not cry out, but I want to stand up and cry, "No, don't do that!" My life profession has been to take care of small babies. I do not want to think of this precious one dying. I will not permit it. I still have no answers as how to handle the death of a child.
Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our immortality. I still have difficulty with it. There is a huge part of me that lives as though I and others will live forever. Easter tells me there is more than this life, resurrection, what Barbara Crafton calls TheAlso Life, but I still cling to this present moment.
I think again of my aunt. In fact, I feel her presence. A friend calls to tell me that a dear friend is having her first baby today and has asked for prayers. I pray that the spirit of my aunt will be by the bed of my friend to guide and protect her and her unborn child.
One friend dies, another is born. We all carry the blackened sign of the cross on our forehead. I return to the Cathedral School and remember a sermon by Beth Maze, “creation is made from dust.”
It is good that we have these forty days to ponder all this.
One opportunity Sunday March 10 to purchase a signed copy of A Daily Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Little Rock in the narthex after the 8 and 10:30 services. Proceeds from the book go for hurricane relief in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.