Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ashes and Dust

After coming home from work last night, I made it to the 7pm mass to receive ashes, symbolizing my mortality and ushering in the liturgical season of Lent. The solemnity of the service moved me into a place of remembrance.

It's a cold, rainy Thursday night in Asheville and I'm remembering this time last year. I was living and working at an outdoor education center in NY's Catskills. Our spring season had just started, complete with tapped sugar maples, muddy hiking trails, and changes in the barnyard. Twin lambs were born during the first week of Lent. The weak one died three days after Ash Wednesday, during February's darkest and longest storm. I remember feeling the sad irony of this small animal's death. I probably also gave more meaning to the situation than was deserved. Sheep, as most farmer's can attest, are stupid creatures. This unfortunate lamb was never recognized by its mother and therefore didn't stand a chance of receiving the nourishment of its first meal. My housemates and I stayed up late for those few days, nursing this lamb with baby formula from latex gloves and warming it by the stove. I think we all thought with some extra love and attention we could help this tiny creature and ensure it see spring. But nature has other plans. And humans like to interfere sometimes; we like to think we can override the natural order of being. The healthy lamb thrived, and was later named General by a group of our students. We got to see him grow into a fat and frolicky young sheep that spring, and by June I'd forgotten that it had had a twin. I'd forgotten how cold, uncomfortable, and dark it usually is in the last days of winter.

Lent, as I am learning, is a space of 40 days and nights before Easter, set aside for abstinence, fasting, penitence, and meditation. This is a time to become closer to the God of my understanding and a time to explore the dark night of the soul, before the light and life of spring come round again to renew in us the cycles and seasons of existence.

"Remember, from ashes you have come and to ashes you will return."

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