The imposition of ashes was yesterday – of course,
I know that much.
The calendar said so…
The liturgy dictated it…
I even carried out – despite a snow shriveled congregation huddled in a sanctuary being renovated – carpets removed, chalk lines on the floor and walls, electric lines dangling like tongues from the wall.
I thought about the dust swirling about us…
Of course, it was carpet fiber…
Of course, it was wood dust and plaster.
But perhaps, just perhaps, among the sixty year old carpet ripped from its resting place
there were the long ago deposited cells of saints now in glory.
It took my breath away, this thought, and tempted me to breathe deeper still.
We talked about that.
Listened to a reading about dust and ashes, ashes and dust.
And thirteen times
I dipped my index finger into the oily black mess
of burnt palm branches and
God only knows what else that settled from our place of worship.
(Yeah, I’m different that way…I use my thumb to push back stray hairs.)
I made the sign of the cross on foreheads.
I said the words, “You are dust, to dust you shall return.”
We stared at the different crosses one pastor/artist could create on the canvass of skin.
We laughed and we left.
But today is “Ash Thursday” for me.
I look at that paintbrush which is my index finger
and I see it.
that has embedded itself deep into the quick of my finger.
Only a painful cut with the nail clippers will erase its presence.
Yet before I pull out the eraser,
I am reminded
that this is the first time,
the only first time,
that my Dad is among those saints remembered as dust, celebrated as ash.
He is embedded deep too.
Not just in the quick of my finger but somewhere quite deeper…
in the ganglia of my nerves…
in the composition of my cells…
in the foggy clarity of my memory…
in the power of my family system.
Cut off from the family – but present still.
I can cut out the ashes on my recognition of Ash Thursday,
almost as easily as I wiped the cross from my increasing forehead.
But some dust, some ash will remain deep.
Maybe that is why we were told not to look for the living among the dead –
We can easily find the dead among the living…
Look in a mirror…
Listen to a laugh…
Talk to a child…
It’s Ash Thursday for me…and I thank God I am happy for that!