When someone says the word “ashes,” what is your first thought?
Is it the flames licking up the curtains in the Pearson’s house? Google the word and that’s the definition that is listed first, “the powdery residue left after the burning of a substance.”
Then, though, right below, comes another context, “the remains of something destroyed.”
On Wednesday, I’ll wait in line for the privilege of being marked with ash.
The priest or deacon or lay person will choose from among several brief phrases as he (or she) makes a cross of ash on my forehead with the pad of a thumb.
For folks with less oily skin, often it’s barely a hint. Mine, however, seems to be enormous and lasting.
And that’s okay.
We’ve all seen tragic images of people picking through ash after fire ravages their lives. They are looking for something — a wedding ring, a picture frame — that will signal that not every single thing has been lost.
Ashes on Wednesday are symbolic as well, but for Christians, they are really more than a token smudge.
They remind us that Jesus suffered for us, and that our lives here on this Earth, much like the Pearsons’ curtains, are temporary.
All human suffering is temporary. That is the golden message that allows us to move forward after a crushing, devastating development.
The kind of news that makes us physically ill almost always seems better — eventually. Whether it’s a good night’s sleep, a realization that it almost always could be worse, the knowing in your bones that this too can be overcome, we realize that those are the struggles that mean we are alive.
The symbolism that is Wednesday happens once a year in the midst of Wyoming’s winter. But it doesn’t happen on the same calendar date.
This year is the first since 1945 that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day occur on the same day.
In our house, Ash Wednesday wins out. The friend had the choice of grilled cheese and tomato soup or tuna sandwiches and clam chowder and chose the latter.
So there won’t be champagne and filet mignon at our house. And that’s okay.
Catholics firmly believe that God knows what he is doing. Several times in my life, Lent has come at exactly the right time.
The time I need the most to get centered, to shake off the earthly bonds and worries that bind, and as Ephesians tells us in the Bible, put on the whole armor of God.
Once, although it seems more like a movie script than real life, I received life-changing, devastating news while kneeling in the pew on Ash Wednesday morning.
Yet, by the time Mass was over and I left the church, the sun was out, the car started, and I realized that life — especially mine — would go on.
From ashes to redemption in 46 quick days. Now that’s a movie.