Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lying on Ash Wednesday

Yesterday I said today I'd be moving on and finishing the eucharistic prayer today. Turns out, I lied. I know, and it's Ash Wednesday. I'm in for rocky roads this season! But just had one other little start of the season reflection I want to share.

I have sort of a checkered history as a priest with Ash Wednesday. My first year as a priest, I think it would be safe to say that when it came to distribution I had no sense of proportion. People were walking away with huge crosses on their forehead, sometimes with so much ash in them that it also trickled down into their eyes and onto their cheeks. I wasn't doing it on purpose, mind you, I was just pressing my thumb into the little glass bowl of ashes like I thought I should. Turns out, I have a pretty big thumb.

The next year, at a parish in New York, when it came to the blessing of the ashes itself, instead of saying, "Lord, bless these ashes, by which we show that we are dust," I inadvertently said, "Lord, bless these asses." This made a significant dent in the penitential tone of the occasion. (I was told later, actually the problem was that you stopped, smiled and corrected yourself. Otherwise, people would have missed it entirely. Little did they know, I was this close to howling with laughter.)

I am also the priest who in his first year had a newly baptized baby urinate on him in front of a huge congregation on Easter Sunday.

Not cool, Child of God. Not cool.

Suffice it to say, this whole season, it's full of surprises for me.

And the biggest surprise of all, I find every year, is just to hear that phrase when you receive the Ashes: Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I look forward to that moment every year. I relish it like that moment on a TV show or in a movie that the whole thing has been building towards, and now finally, FINALLY happens.

Because it's the truth. All my plans and desires and tasks and petty complaints or emnities can seem so substantial and central. But the fact of the matter is, I'm going to die, and all that stuff isn't going to mean anything.

I spend so much of my energy worrying about what amounts to how to keep my finger in the dam, and in this one little moment I'm told, don't bother. It's not going to hold. Might as well get on to some things that are more important. Like God and loving people and letting go. It's a huge liberation.

What's left of a dam after it bursts...