You’ve got a smudge of something on your forehead
It’s Ash Wednesday. Whatever your religious tradition or non-tradition, you probably already recognize Ash Wednesday in some form.
At the heart of it, Ash Wednesday is a moment to consider the value of life. Our brevity on earth. Our inherent limited-ness as human beings. “From dust you have come and to dust you must go,” says the priest with the ashes.
Most of us observe a form of Ash Wednesday when we attend a funeral. We give hugs to the family. We cry. We search for something to say. We ponder our own life and death.
We observe Ash Wednesday when the doctor tells us we’ll need a PET scan. Who, me? Why? The words come quickly back to mind, From dust you have come…
We observe Ash Wednesday when our loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Our brains, our bodies are carbon and water. Nothing is permanent. …To dust you must go.
On Ash or any Wednesday, we can be struck with that gruesome and necessary fact of life — that it isn’t ours forever. That it’s precious. That it is worth living with our eyes wide open.
It’s not so much a sad observance, but a freeing observance. In the process of confronting our limitation, we may just discover new meaning to our life . . . or take a risk we didn’t think was possible . . . or awaken a part of us we thought was gone.
Christians embody the limited-ness of Ash Wednesday and Lent by disciplining themselves (giving up Coke, or giving away money, or living without any number of interesting things). Fellow blogger Pastor Keith even considers giving up the phone for Lent.
Whatever your tradition or belief, here’s to living life with eyes wide open. . . captured so beautifully in poetry:
The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(from New and Selected Poems, 1992, Beacon Press, Boston, MA)
Previous posts about discipline: