Ash Wednesday Thoughts
Ash Wednesday always stops me. This morning I took a bundle of palm branches saved from last year's Palm Sunday service and slowly and messily burned them in a bowl lined with aluminum foil. The pungent smoke filled the courtyard and permeated my clothes. Some guys came by for a meeting and looked curiously at me, kneeling over a smoking bowl of palm branches in my suitcoat and tie. Ash Wednesday has become, for me, a solitary pastoral ritual; getting the ashes burned and placed in a recepticle in the sanctuary.
It's a good day to remind me of my relative insignificance in the big picture. I am, actually, ashes in waiting. I am going to die. Ash Wednesday reminds me, bluntly, of my mortality and finitude. All my big ideas and grand plans....ashes. All the energy I spend on shirts and ties, washing the car and writing blogs....ashes. All my thoughts about committees and boards, denominational directions and leadership issues....ashes. All my grandiose hopes and aspirations...ashes.
At first glance, this is pretty depressing and morbid thought process. But hang around ashes long enough, and you can get peacefully joyful. The stuff that stresses me....it too is ashes. Those that threaten me...ashes. The looming deadlines and expectations of others...ashes. The financial pressures and worries (especially around tax time)...ashes. The words from others that bruise my ego....ashes. All the stuff that weighs me down is, in the end, ashes.
Thomas aKempis wrote that our problem as Christians is that we are not dead enough yet to be fully alive to God. The old me still kicks around too much. May Ash Wednesday make me alive, fully!