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, 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.
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.
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.