Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Love and Ashes

Next Wednesday, a week from today, is both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. Leading up to that day and over the course of that day, exorbitant amounts of money will be wasted, I mean spent on cards and flowers and chocolate and jewelry. (Steve, if you are reading this, please don't buy me any of those things. Just invest the money in the "Gail goes back to Spain" fund. I am not joking.)

Over the course of that day, many foreheads will be darkened by ashes. The charred remains of incinerated palms from last year's Palm Sunday processions will be mixed with oil and applied to the foreheads of thousands, perhaps millions of Christian people, around the world as a reminder to us of our mortality.

We will be told some version of this statement by the person whose thumb will make the sign of the cross on our foreheads: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Not the happiest or merriest of salutations.
But one of the most important.

We are dust. Stardust. Dust of many shades and hues. Beautiful dust. Invaluable, priceless dust.
But dust nonetheless.

Life is short.
And getting shorter daily.
Although some people "reported" that last month, January, was 74 days long.
That it felt interminable.
It felt fast to me.
As does every week, month, and year since 2008 or so.
It feels to me like time is flying past.
Which means that I am getting closer and closer to my return trip to the dust.
So are you.

But here's the thing I love about Ash Wednesday this year.
It is also Valentine's Day.
Love day.
Whether we are hitched or not, in love or not, engaged or not,
we can celebrate love next Wednesday.
The love of family
The love of friends
The love of neighbors
The love of our faith communities
The love of work colleagues (I do not recommend that any of us express that love out loud)
The love of animals
The love of nature and the planet
The love of beauty and color and art
The love of simply being alive
There is so much love to celebrate and enjoy
- even in these times of discord and uncivil discourse.

And the love of God - which is the ultimate love in my life
Love that gives
Love that forgives
Love that allows the runaway to run away
Love that awaits the return of the runaway
Love that welcomes the runaway back home
Love that offers itself to the child that doesn't know his or her belovedness
Love that gives its life for the beloved
Love that never ends, never fades, never fails

Love and ashes
Love and loss
Love and fire
Love and messiness
Love and sorrow
Love and falling down
Love and fallenness
Love and dying
Love and death
Love and hope
Love and prayer
Love and longing
Love and passion
Love and peace
Love and grace
Love and joy
Love and mercy
Love and forgiveness

Love and ashes and all that other stuff too
Mixed and smeared on my forehead
Mixed and smeared and then brushed down onto my eyelashes and spread down onto my cheeks because I forget that anything is on my forehead and I absentmindedly rub my face
By the time I get home next Wednesday evening, my face will be a mess -
a sooty, oily, crumbly, beautiful, well-worn mess -
love and ashes and life visible for anyone and everyone to see.

May love and ashes and hope and healing and joy be smeared all over you too.
And not just next Wednesday, but everyday.
Because time is flying.
Our day of returning to the dust is coming on fast.
I don't know about you, but I've still got a whole lot of loving to do before I'm done here.

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