Nashville, TN: Today is Ash Wednesday. Though I feel like I'm muddling through a vat of former-Catholic, borderline-Buddhist, Christian-inspired and continuous-seeking, I try to at least pay attention to the events and traditions that have been passed on through generations. Instead of getting swept up in trying to define "what I am" (mainly to appease others more than for myself), today I am trying to focus on the basic meaning of the day and the understanding of the season I am about to enter into.
In a quiet room, air thick with incense, I knelt down in front of Rev. Becca Stevens and felt her fingers brush my bangs back and her thumb press down on my forehead with a sign of the cross.
"Remember that you are dust,and to dust you shall return."
What a feeling of relief. To know that my stuff -- the demons I wrestle with, the situations that I create, the jaw that I clench -- all of that will eventually not matter any more because I will literally be dust. Inevitably, the sweetness, too, will also be ashes in the end, but I am focused on the revelation that nothing. really. matters. Almost a stress-less way to begin Lent.
Yes, now onto Lent. According to the bible -- well, in this case, the internet bible -- Lent is a "the forty-day-long liturgical season of fasting and prayer before Easter." As I was taught growing up, you also have to give up something and not eat meat on Fridays. My vision of Lent now is focused on the more personal aspect of the season. Lent is the representation that we have to die before we rise... or it is darkest before the dawn... or our heart must break before it can be whole again.
It's such a bittersweet feeling to know that you literally have to go through hell to get to heaven. Even in the other Bible (yes, that one), Jesus -- who, by the way, could have TOTALLY gotten out of the whole crucified, died and was buried part if he really wanted to, but chose not to because he knew he had to go through this awful thing to get to the other side -- was "very sad and troubled, and he said to them, "I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying." (Matthew 26:37-38 (Contemporary English Version) *ps - not even sure if that's how you notate Bible passages... um, help, please?). In a strange way, I feel even more empathy for and connection to Jesus to know that even HIS heart was breaking.
Lent, in my understanding of it right now, is to remember those (including ourselves) who have, are and will go through suffering and pain and heartache and loss, as a part of moving into a better place. We simply can't avoid the pain. It is a cycle, as simple as birth and death. I can now look at it and somehow be grateful for the opportunities I've had to die myself, that would force me to into new life.
So, it is through these next 40 days, that I hope to remember my personal sufferings and the sufferings of the women and men who surround me, and the people of all the world. I hope to reflect on the fact that "this too, shall pass" and eventually I will return to dust.
Oh and I'm giving up coffee. You might be able to take the Catholic out of the girl, but not the guilt.