In addition to being Valentine’s Day, for many others in the world, the day marked something else. Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, for Christian churches that recognize Liturgical Seasons. (Hang tight– this isn’t a “churchy” post!) The idea is that participants use the 40 days (not including Sundays which are feast days!) as a preparation for Easter, symbolically walking with Jesus to the cross. In churches that observe Ash Wednesday, pastors say words that always give me the chills. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These remind worshippers as they are marked by an ashen cross on their foreheads of their mortality.
I get the theological reasoning behind the observance. But the more I watch people around me, and in the great big world, the more I get the feeling that our mortality is more on our mind than any of us would care to admit.
Things that once seemed so permanent are gone in a flash. Things we counted on happening but don’t, leave us feeling uncertain. Even huge structures made out of steel tumble down in an instant. And our bodies, sometimes they feel like they’re crumbling before us.
I had written most of this post before I learned of the school shooting in Florida yesterday. And today, I still don’t have any words to put in this space of hurt and grief and loss… and numbness.
What I had planned to say was that sometimes we choose ashes, out of habit if nothing else. We wallow in the ashes of what might have been, what should have been, what we had so deeply hoped. Ashes of relationships, ashes of dreams, ashes of security.
The rest of what I had planned to say was that maybe we should set down our ashes, and choose beauty instead. Choose the beauty of possibilities, the beauty of new souls that somehow connect deeply to ours, the beauty of what might spring up to life in what seemed to only be a barren field. I had planned to tell the story of working at a children’s home— and how one in our care had gotten so angry at a peer that he lit his peer’s clothes on fire. Because of his anger, the whole cottage burned down. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. But then several months later, after the building had been razed and we were dedicating the land for a groundbreaking on a new building, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Flowers everywhere— crazy, colorful, wild little flowers— right in the fertile ground of the ashes of what had been.
But today, none of those words matter. And none of them fill a void that we’re all feeling.
Maybe, though, this isn’t about “Loving your Life”— but maybe it’s the right thing anyway. Maybe choosing beauty is the best resistance we have.
Choose the beauty of smiling at people you don’t know, the beauty of practicing kindness. Choose the beauty of offering your unique gifts and talents to a hurting world, the beauty of bravery over fear. Choose the beauty of finding out how much more alike we are than how different, the beauty of sending love into the world over the anger that you didn’t get loved like you wanted to.
Choose the beauty of still imagining more.
Do it anyway.