WEEKLY REFLECTION | February 25, 2024 – Reflection of Ash Wednesday

Dear Brothers and Sisters, 

Reflections on Ash Wednesday, 2024

Ash Wednesday.

Many people whose shoes bear the dust of diverse geographies will attend worship this Wednesday, February 14. They will worship together and then leave their sanctuaries with ashes smeared on their foreheads. The ashes carry multiple meanings for those who lean forward on Ash Wednesday and offer their faces shyly or boldly or uncertainly or tearfully to receive that cross-shaped smear.

Each Ash Wednesday worshiper brings personal memories and meanings to this liturgical moment. The prayers spoken, sacred texts uttered, and the ashes touched draw my attention in quite personal ways this year to my human vulnerabilities. I stumbled in my yard in December and broke my femoral neck. Now, ten weeks later, I move about with varying degrees of smoothness thanks to what I refer to as a “shiny new hip.” Where, I have wondered since my surgery, did my old hip retire to? That 61-year-old bone that was with me when I learned to walk and carried the weight of me when I played saxophone in marching band and knelt with me when I was ordained to ministry—where is it now?

Dust to dust indeed.

I celebrate human dustiness on this year’s Ash Wednesday as I offer gratitude for that old-and-now-gone hip bone of mine. I also offer gratitude for medical wonders like my shiny new hip. I saw an image of the prosthesis on an X-ray several weeks ago. It was a beautiful sight to me, that grey-toned skeletal vision of human matter mixed with scientific discovery. More beautiful still are the friends, family members, and strangers who shared their hearts and wisdom with me through scalpels and surgical thread, soups and stews, gentle touches and late-night conversations. Many folks healed and are healing me.

Broader meanings also infuse Ash Wednesday’s liturgical acts. In Christian traditions, Ash Wednesday has a long history of nudging pilgrim feet onto Lenten wilderness pathways in search of resurrection hope and life. The scriptural words spoken in most Ash Wednesday liturgies are also ancient: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words flavored the lips of generations of our ancestors, and we taste of their bittersweet journeys today when we speak these words and feel the ashes kiss our foreheads.

Remember,” we hear the Spirit, our ancestors, the earth, and our own hearts whisper to us. “Human life is at the same time fragile and fierce, short-lived and enduring. We belong to each other, and we belong to the earth. We belong to God. Remember.

I used to think we face our mortalities and shortcomings when our foreheads are ash-smeared. This wisdom endures, but this year? I see both the fragility and wonder of human mortality in the eyes and actions of those whose shoe-dust mingles with mine along life’s myriad highways and byways. We cannot see our own smudged foreheads (except in a mirror, of course). Perhaps God calls us as we begin this Lenten season to see God’s spirit of justice, compassion, and hope on the faces of those with whom we travel.

snowdrops on ash wednesday

she kissed my forehead at night
when the world was drowsy and
mrs. beasley and I were snuggled
safe down deep beneath cotton-cool
sheets and a moon-yellow blanket
a lone snowdrop tickling my
furrowed bedtime brow
prophet of winter’s death
a mother’s tender-fierce
twilight touch marking me

her fingers that served held
the sunday remembrance bread
brushed my forehead
weightless as a feather
floating across my face
(perhaps from a house
finch escaping the hiss of
a neighbor’s big yellow tomcat)
to dust you shall return

kiss mrs beasley too i demanded
and she always did but not
without a fuss since mrs beasley
is a doll and not real at all except
my mothers’ berry blush lipstick left
a puckered seal and
i was reassured since i
could never see my own
forehead but mrs beasleys
smudged face held my eyes
until night danced with stardust


Mo. Laura+

Coming Up

    • Monday, February 25, 7:00 p.m. Lenten Book Study continues (send email to Mo. Laura for zoom link) (no class on Feb. 19)

    • Wednesdays, noonday prayer via zoom at 12:0

    • Monday and Fridays, morning prayer via zoom at 8:00