Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Word for Wednesday: Ashes (A Series of Posts about Words)

When I was a junior in high school one of my classes was a creative writing class focused exclusively on poetry. I had no patience for poetry, I'm afraid to say. I believed that words are best when they are in the good company of many other words, strung together in sentences and contained appropriate punctuation. But after a semester (and then two more) of living in poetry, I learned to cherish words, just words, for their power and joy and unexpected meaning. So I take some time every Wednesday to think about a word with you. Glad you are here. 

Word for Today: Ashes

Definition: The word ashes is a word for the remains after a fire. The grey-white or black powder left behind after burning. The mineral residue, the "particulate matter" ejected by volcanic eruption. Ashes means ruins, the remains after cremation.

Ashes, noun. A word for the fire that consumes. We talk, talk, talk all the time about being "on fire" with the Spirit, or being "on fire" for God. And the feeling of love, devotion, chasing after God is true and good. But the purifying fire consumes and leaves traces of ashes. That attitude of envy? Ashes. The grip of pride on your heart? Ashes. When we invite the flame of God to enter and purify us, it means that we will see attitudes, ideas, feelings - reduced to ashes, to particles, to mineral residue. Everything we wanted to keep safely tucked in our pockets, those convenient excuses ("I'm only cranky because I had a bad day... I was only joking... I said that because I was tired... I forgot you because...) - if we submit ourselves to becoming ashes, those things will catch fire.

Ashes, noun. A word that forces my eyes upwards to look in the mirror honestly. How much do I choose not to see about myself that needs to change? How much do I cover in shadows? For Lent this year I am, in addition to other things, giving up makeup. That means when I look in the mirror it is only my eyes that look back, only that splash of freckles (unaided by blush or bronzer), only that hint of dimples that I say all too often I wish I didn't have. I hear ashes and I think, Ash Wednesday is the invitation to self-examination. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of seeing honestly.

(Photo Credit: Mandie Sodoma)
Ashes, noun. It means the hymn "The King of Love My Shepherd Is." I was thirteen when my paternal grandfather died. We flew to England in a whirlwind of snow, and I remember the white outside the plane and on the ground, contrasted so sharply with the black of his ashes after the cremation. I remember the service in the crematorium and the song I still can't sing without it catching in my throat. The ashes seem to fill my lung, the reminder that we return to dust. A reminder that somehow, in blinding snow flurries and too many tears, this is the story of the King of Love, the Shepherd.

Ashes, noun. A new heart is being forged. I'm moldable as the white iron in the leaping flames of the blacksmith's fire, and He wants to do beautiful work. I am being made new, this Lent and beyond, in each moment if I can hold my hands open and say yes Father, yes to the molding, yes to the Grace of Your flames, to the promise of the new heart

(Photo credit: Mandie Sodoma)

I read in a devotional the other day, this question. 

O My Child, have I ever failed thee? Have I ever turned My back upon thee, or forsaken thee? Have I not been thy refuge and thy strong defense?

Ashes says, "Remember, remember He who brings victory. Remember, remember that you too might catch flame with love. Remember, remember that ashes are the promise of life

Pray with me (from the Book of Common Prayer):

 Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the
 earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our
 mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is
 only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life;
 through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


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