Ashes to Ashes

Today I came across this post from eleven years ago. In a time when Ash Wednesday will most likely be celebrated virtually, I offer this reminder of how it was to stand in line with the bodies of your friends, to walk up to the celebrant, to feel the warm thumb on your forehead and return to your pew to sit with the reality of your own sweet mortality.

The Praying Life

One by one they come forward. I press my thumb into the black sooty ash. On the forehead I make the sign of an ancient form of execution. Looking them in the eyes I say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” For some I have to stand on tiptoe to make the mark. For the children I bend down to sign their lifted brows.

After eleven years among them, I know these people – their pain, their struggles, losses, hopes, and dreams. I love them. They come to place themselves before the altar and ask for this – this sincerity, this frank acknowledgement of death. They come to receive the smudge that says they know they have fallen short and they are sorry.

In a culture which denies death, sin, and personal and corporate responsibility for wrong-doing, I am moved by these who come to…

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