Oh, Ash Wednesday. Like so many occasions this year, I underestimated how hard you’d be this time around. I’m certain it’s a function of ignorance, or denial, or both.
Was there any chance that hearing ‘you are dust and to dust you shall return’ in the presence of the ashes of she who imposed them upon my forehead last year would be anything less than gut wrenching?
No, of course not.
And yet, I sit here again, shocked at the depth of feeling. Surprised by how much it hurts to remember the year she stood before us, with tears streaming down her own face as she imposed ashes on all of us; because she’d just lost her father. Bewildered that, even though it does bring a smile to my face, I can’t help but tear up remembering her tell the story of one of her pastoral colleagues, who burned something she shouldn’t have when making ashes for the service (hardwood, of some sort, I think?). When mixed with water, those ashes formed lye and burned the image of the cross on parishioners’ foreheads. I can’t remember why she shared that story, or who she was sharing it with (confirmation kids, I think). Oh, how I wish I could remember every last detail. Of everything she ever said to us.
I recall being told ashes for imposition are made by burning the branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. I have no idea if that’s what happens at my church or not, but for today I’m choosing to believe it is. That the ashes currently upon my head came from palms she waved. Whether or not it’s true, I like the thought.
I’m not giving up anything for Lent, and I’m not undertaking any new disciplines for the next 40 days, but I am aspiring to be more present and in the moment when walking through my daily life, and to do so with gratitude. Such things are not inherently in my nature, so I’ll be channelling my inner-Stephanie, who was the most present person I’ve ever known. What a gift we were given.