Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday's Ashes

I was a bit hasty in my Wednesday post on "Upstairs, Downstairs." It had nothing at all to do with Ash Wednesday--of course, I knew that, but I hadn't planned to post about the significance of Ash Wednesday at all. . .except--

Except we went to Ash Wednesday service at our church, and one particular aspect of the service moved me incredibly. And, yes, I use that word particularly. I did not believe I could be so moved, yet I was.

If you have attended an Ash Wednesday service, you might know that imposition of ashes upon one's forehead is a traditional part of this service. Herewith, an image from my denomination's website.

As we approach the minister, who is holding a small bowl of ashes (traditionally made from burning last year's palms from Palm Sunday), the minister asks--what is your name?

Donna.

Donna, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Such a simple exchange.

In effect, the minister has just said--you are going to die.


And what is the reaction of people as they receive this sentence?

Thank you.

I watched people as they received this cross of ashes. Watched them as the minister drew this small simple symbol of suffering on their foreheads. I watched them close their eyes, as if in prayer, or keep their eyes open, looking with clarity into the eyes of the minister before them.

And I saw person after person murmur "thank you."

That's what moved me.
I recall a marvelous little poem about mortality.
---------------------------
Epitaph
By Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618)
(written the night before his execution, 1618)

Even such is time, that takes on trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who, in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust
My God shall raise me up, I trust!


-----------------------
Photo of the Ash Wednesday service taken by Beth Hager.

8 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

I can understand why that would be a gripping moment.

Climenheise said...

Raleigh's poem sounds almost trite, until one adds awareness that he knew his death intimately. The repeated formulae -- you are dust; thank you -- are equally profound in their simplicity. Doubt and faith mingle in death.

Murr Brewster said...

It was just a couple nights ago I had one of those moments when I fully realized my death will be an actual event in my life (that happens more at night), and my overriding thought was: "I hope my last thought is 'thank you.'"

Which is odd because I do not hold a belief of any entity to thank.

Donna Henderson said...

I wonder if it's a sin to look forward to death? I want to be with my husband so badly. In the meantime, I am trying to collect enough Brownie points so that when I do finally "meet my Maker," He will smile at me, saying, "Well done, Donna."

Donna Henderson said...

I am sad but not suicidal. I would never do that to all who love me. Besides, I think God would be quite displeased with me for showing up too early, don't you? I will be okay, I have my ups and downs. Don't worry.

BettieB said...

Since I hit 60 three year ago, I have thought a lot about dying. Never really thought much about it before. I always had that youthful belief that I was invincible, but 60 kind of slammed it into my face. I was angry for a while, in fact until just recently, but I am beginning to accept the inevitability and trying not to dwell on it and make the most of my life. Because I am a "fallen away" Catholic, I do not have my religion to turn to any longer for comfort about the hearafter, which makes it difficult to deal with, as I am not certain of the existence of anything beyond this world. So I try to appreciate what I have and be kind while I am here and hope that is good enough. I do however plan to live until I am 100, so I guess I better go excersise again!

Ruth said...

Being confronted with death on a daily basis at work, I think often about its eventuality. We need to murmur "thank you" for each day of life we enjoy.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I am not sure why one would say "Thank you." after being reminded that one was going to die.

I guess implied is that you have life and it is good and part of living is dying.