Weeds: Lenten journey leads to Easter
Today is Ash Wednesday. Many of us Christians will be walking around with a smudge of ashes upon our forehead.
It might seem odd, but this is a favorite day of the year for me. Ash Wednesday heralds another Lent, another chance to get my messy life in order. Unfortunately, my life is like the sheds on the farm that I never get completely organized. But one shan’t give up, daunting as the task is.
Those ashes pressed upon our foreheads are made from burning palm leaves left over from last year’s Palm Sunday, connecting seasons past and present. Technically one is not “dirty” when you are so marked. “Ashy” would be more accurate. But it looks dirty. I like that.
Often in the work of farming, I am dirty. A good day means there is plenty to clean off before sleep. Dirt, crop dust, grease, oil, sweat can be signs of a full day with lots accomplished. Some not so good days have found me similarly begrimed. Either, they feel like “real” days. Days spent doing paperwork and running errands are important. But they don’t carry the same real feeling. Real days find me bone-tired at the end, with a sense of satisfaction.
Ashes are applied with these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Thus, the ashes blend with dust in meaning. We are dust; we are of this Earth, at least our bodies are. We shall return to dust. You know what that means. Death is in our future. Our physical selves will return to the Earth. That’s not a cheery message. But it’s real.
It’s not the whole story though. As believers, we know we are only temporarily dust. Our soul is beyond dust, beyond Earth, beyond the stars. It exists not in time and not in place. Being humans and not angels, we can’t comprehend that. Perhaps we will in the afterlife.
In the meantime, here we are. I will look in the mirror later to see if the ashes are the dark, lasting type or the lighter, quick-to-fade kind. They will be a reminder that the figure I see is temporal and transitory. The same as every leaf or bird or critter I see scurrying about the grove.
We have the difficult task of being fully in this moment in this place, while aware of eternity in a place that is no place. It’s an almost impossible undertaking, like trying to walk while looking two directions at once. Wouldn’t we fall over if we did that? We have to care for these vessels we occupy for sixty or eighty years. At the same time, we are to safeguard our souls that are eternal.
“Duality” is a popular word that is used in many contexts. It fits here well. Duality, two things existing simultaneously and complementary. We have these two realities that sometimes seem at odds. There are times something might feel so right for our self here and now. But it could be robbing from my soul. When our body, mind, and soul are on the same waves, those are times we feel connected to those around us and to God. It’s not an easy balance.
What does it mean to live in this duality? A few thoughts. First, we will know that every other one of our fellow travelers is also lugging around a body and a soul created by God. Some of them will be easy to love, and it is a great blessing if we can count such a group as family and friends. Others come in and out of our lives, touching us and moving on, writing subchapters.
Then there is a set who are challenging, maybe downright difficult. This will include some jerks. Especially when interacting with this group, it is good to remember that life on this side of the grave isn’t easy for any of us. None of us can fully know the burdens upon another. We might even be the jerks some days.
All of them, from the loveable to the barely tolerable, all deserve a portion of respect, at least consideration. Jesus even calls us to love our enemy. C’mon. That seems a bit much. But there it is.
If we can be kind to the unkind or caring to the uncaring, those will possibly be marked among our greatest days when our lives on Earth are measured. We can try to be gentle in an increasingly harsh world. Don’t post that snarky comment. Don’t make fun of someone. Don’t speak ill of another, even if they deserve it.
Living the duality means we have an Earthly home and an eternal home. We know this one. A few bible passages and a lot of conjecture are all we know about the next one. The time will come soon enough we will learn of that. For now, we share responsibility to protect and preserve this home. This planet deserves reverence and awe, the same as any great cathedral or temple. God made it and now mankind can destroy it. We must help where we can.
The duality means offering our imperfect selves to a perfect God. Trying and never quite getting it right is our condition here. That is frustrating. But it is the role we have been given to play in the script of our own great drama.
We work every day to get it right. But Lent comes around on the church calendar every year to call forth special effort. Fasting, abstinence, and repentance are paths we can choose these forty days. I will try to spend more time each day in prayer and try to fit in scripture. I will again give up some drinking for Lent. “Some” drinking I guess is an imperfect resolution. But it’s useful to me.
Lent can be a pilgrimage. Ash Wednesday begins the march toward Holy Week. That week, the entire message of Christianity will play out. From Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter, every emotion known to man will be on display as we bounce from exhilaration to pain and sorrow and finally, the joy of Easter.
Let the Lenten journey begin.