“Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”
Such fitting words as I mark the beginning of another year around the sun or as today will remind me, another year closer to my Maker.
They don’t always fall on the same day – my birthday and Ash Wednesday. The last time Ash Wednesday occurred on March 2 was 1960 – way before my time – but this year the juxtaposition of these two days is not lost on me. Today we begin the journey to the cross. On my birthday I will wear a cross of ashes reminding me of my life saved from eternal death
This morning, my coworker asked me how I was celebrating my birthday. Deep in thought, I said.
Yes, of course I am deep in thought today. It is what I do and who I am – from the very dust particles of my being. I am a deep thinker and feeler. The last several weeks even more so, as so many of the things I have clung to in life besides the One I should – have fallen away as everything eventually does. In the process I have come to know myself better – my TRUE Self. It’s an eye-opening, lay awake at night, unsettling process. I came to realize how heavy I have let this little life of mine become. Weighed down by the weight of my own being – buried in a very lonely place.
The crosses I bear are of my own making. The darkness I have held within me is my greatest sin. It has tamed and impoverished my life.
Yes, the ashes of this day weigh heavy. They remind me that life is fragile, finite, precious, and unpredictable. There are no guarantees on tomorrow and the past is but a memory – all we have is the beautiful, painful, everchanging now. God doesn’t want us to waste this precious gift of life in regret or despair. He made that perfectly clear in the waters of my baptism and on the cross I wear today. I must remind myself of that. My sins are forgiven. I must not wallow in my failures or dwell on my regrets. God is not my source of condemnation, He is the source of my life. He is my strength and my shield.
Jesus came so that I may have life. (John 10:10) Jesus gives life, reveals life, and calls me (and you) to a meaningful life in the now, in this very messed up time and in this place – wherever and however that may be. A life that savors all that I have in the now and accepts what I don’t. A life that embraces the challenges – even a possible hip replacement and the changes that will bring. A life that finds its essence by sharing it and opening it to others – others who are also living through life’s deaths before death as well as giving life to life.
And so today I won’t be celebrating with birthday candles on a cake – but ashes on my forehead. Celebrating life – the life given for me and the life breathed into me by Jesus. The life I still have yet to live. The life I want to live.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.“When Death Comes” -Mary Oliver
Let your light so shine – especially through the ashes.