Ash Wednesday 2011

by Hannah the Zebra

Today has been hard.  This is my fifth week off work due to bronchitis and a sinus infection, and it’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. I had neither the energy to attend the short noon healing Eucharist, as I usually do, nor the main Ash Wednesday service this evening.  I’ve been really sad.  Lent is actually my second favorite liturgical season.  Advent, the four Sundays leading to Christmas, is the first.  Sometimes I wish those two seasons could last all year.  And then, of course, I immediately realize that they can’t.  Of course they can’t.  They would no longer be set aside.

That’s the purpose of both Advent and Lent.  It’s not so much the whole sackcloth and ashes thing that Lent was when I was growing up.  But both are seasons in which we should be mindful.  Mindful of prayer, of meditation, or of study.  And for me, extra hours of rehearsals and performances, in which we are singing some of the most beautiful music of the church year.  Since music is such a direct link to both my soul and God, it isn’t hard to spend more time in both questioning and reflection.

So I was upset this afternoon when I realized that I wouldn’t have the energy to attend the evening service either.  I called Olga, our pastoral care priest, just to express my sadness and ask for her prayers.  Her immediate response was to suggest that I call John, one of our retired adjunct priests, and ask him to make a pastoral visit and bring ashes.

“You can bring ashes??” I said.  I had a vision of the finely ground ashes from the palms of last year’s Palm Sunday service scattering on the wind and John reaching out and trying to capture some in his hand.

“Yes, you can bring ashes.  We’ve been bringing ashes to people in the hospital all day.”

And then, of course, I realized the ashes would be in a container.  With a lid.  Screwed on.  Tightly.  There’s my lack of common sense imagination again.  And I realized that they would tuck in John’s traveling communion kit quite nicely.

“Oh.”  I said.

So I said goodbye to Olga and called John.  He couldn’t come today, so we arranged for him to come over after I got home from the hospital and my IVIG infusion on Friday.  I was caught by surprise when I started to cry as I was explaining that it was difficult starting Lent without Ash Wednesday as an outward sign of the change of the liturgical season. I felt as though I was just drifting into Lent, with no intentionality about it.  He understood.  And while the imposition of ashes and receiving communion will not actually be on Ash Wednesday, it will be equally appropriate on Friday.  During my infusions, I am both deeply grateful for the blood donors who keep me alive, and very aware of my mortality.

But I still have an image of finely ground ashes scattering in the wind, and the impossibility of catching them.  It is an endearing image, making me realize how grateful I am that we are dependent on each other, and that none of us are alone.