Today, my mood seems to match the mood of Ash Wednesday. It is in sharp contrast from how I felt at the start of the week – settled, full, certain. Today I feel full of doubt, uncertainty, dread. I feel as if I am swirling downward and am not sure how much longer I can carry the load which has been entrusted to me. Today, I feel emotionally, physically, and spiritually weak.
Today, I know I need Ash Wednesday.
In some ways, it seems odd to need the somber nature of this day. It seems counter-intuitive to need to reflect on the fleeting and uncertain and mortal aspect of life when I’m fully feeling the burdens of life. Over the last 13 months, I have lost three family members, all of which were cremated. All of which carry sweet memories for me. In some ways, I didn’t feel like I could grieve those loses. As the pastor, mom, daughter, I tried to be present and give others the space they needed to grieve. I tried to hold their grief and help them bear their burden of loss and sadness.
“Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
And yet, I’m not sure I actually grieved my own loss. The loss of a grandmother figure, an uncle figure, an aunt. The loss of people who have been important to me. And even losses that seem less tangible, more conceptual over the last year or two. The loss of a dream, of parish ministry, of realities that were never true. The loss of unfulfilled expectations. Some of these losses were because I chose to set things down for a season, and yet they still feel like a loss, like a piece of my life and myself is gone. I still have to grieve. I need to acknowledge and feel the feelings.
So today, I sit in the quiet of a university chapel, reflecting, writing, processing, waiting for the Ash Wednesday service to begin. Waiting to be reminded that burden, loss, grief, death is a part of life. Waiting to be reminded that what I feel is not the end and is not the final answer. Waiting to be reminded that the ashes of my life are just that – ashes. Remnants of the reality that was and a reminder of the reality that is yet to come. A reminder that God makes beautiful things out of the dusty ashes of life.
On this Ash Wednesday, I hope you will remember that too.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Repent, and believe the gospel.