How to Ash Wednesday

March 1st, 2017

7:09 Wake up, reach for your phone, remember it’s Ash Wednesday and you were going to start the day contemplatively. Go find journal instead and start writing.

8:00 Kids are gone, break out meditation app you are paying a monthly subscription fee for, but have never used past the free trial period. Meditate for 10 minutes.

8:10 Pray using morning Daily Devotion from Book of Common Prayer.  Pray for your loved ones, your near neighbors, and a couple of people who frankly scare the shit out of you with their crazy.

9:30 Download audio edition of contemporary Bible translation to listen to while walking the dog. 

11:00 Get a shower, eat fish for lunch, share Deep Lenten Insights with husband. You are killing this whole Lent thing. 

12:00 Head to the church office where you work part time, login to Facebook to let everyone know you are killing the whole Lent thing. 

12:05 Wonder where all your co-workers are today, anyway.

12:20 Realize they are all in the sanctuary because DUH Ash Wednesday. 

12:30 Review plan with family to attend 6:30 Ash Wednesday service together. Plan surprise take out catfish meal to reward their cooperation. For once, you will all be in church together.

2:00 Get hungry, wander up to the parish hall kitchen, forget you’re abstaining from meat until the last of a leftover grilled chicken breast from the weekend fundraising event passes your epiglottis. 

2:30 Check email to see how you’re doing with your Lent Madness bracket. Nothing, because it’s Ash Wednesday, stupid. Get annoyed that you have to wait another whole day to see if your chosen saint is kicking the other’s saint’s ass. It’s all for the sake of fun and learning, but you better win, goddammit.

2:45 Evening begin to unravel as husband remembers he has other plans. You’re feeling magnanimous, though, because 10 minutes of British-accented guided meditation goes a long way. You tell him to where to get ashes to go, and to do what he needs to do, with your blessing.

5:00 Pick up middle son from film club. He wants to be dropped off at a friend’s house for the evening. You say no, but then capitulate on the condition he declare a Lenten intention. He does so, and it leads to such a great conversation about Ash Wednesday that you miss the turn for the catfish place and settle for McDonald’s filet-o-fish instead.

6:15 Arrive early with 2/5ths of your family at church. The oldest is needed to help in the nursery and the youngest has been drafted to stand in for the entire acolyte team. Take a seat by yourself in the transept pew where you can keep an eye on him.

6:30 Service begins. Resolve to be attentive, mindful, and present throughout.

6:55 Come “to” in the middle of the sermon, wondering if anyone’s ever left chewing gum on the underside of the pulpit rail. You have no idea what’s happened up to this point in the service.

7:00 Notice your youngest child, seated behind the altar in full view of the congregation, doing rhythmic gymnastics moves with his cincture. Wonder if you can discreetly fashion a pea-shooter from a pew card.

7:05  Someone’s phone is going off, and OH SHIT, it’s yours. Because it’s Wednesday, and the alarm is set to remind you to pick up kids from youth group. You scramble to retrieve it, thinking if you can’t deactivate it at the first touch, you’ll just throw it away from you as far as you can, like a grenade.

7:10 Ashes. This is it, maybe your favorite liturgy of the church year. You go up with the choir and your lone acolyte. “Remember,” Father says, “You are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” You look at your son, your golden one, the last baby, kneeling next to you. “I remember,” you whisper. Amen.

7:30 Realize during the offertory, youngest child has been missing from his seat for at least ten minutes. As you make eye contact with one of the clergy in the universal code for WTF???, said child emerges from God only knows where and resumes his position.

7:40 Communion. You love everyone. All of them. The ones you like, the ones you haven’t met, even the ones who are serious pains in the ass. You love every single one, at least in this moment. And as they turn from the altar rail with their smudges of ash, you realize you may live to bury many of them. Or perhaps they will live to bury you, to comfort your husband and children, to remember you as one of theirs.

It’s all dust. Remember, remember.

I believe in eternal life, you told your middle son in the car, just hours ago. It’s the love that lives on. Only it’s not something you believe. It’s something you know.

4 Responses to “How to Ash Wednesday”

  1. Carol Beausoleil says:

    Beautiful and frankly honest.

  2. marilee pittman says:

    This reminded me of:
    I am of the nature to grow old.
    There is no way to escape growing old.

    I am of the nature to have ill-health.
    There is no way to escape having ill-health.

    I am of the nature to die.
    There is no way to escape death.

    All that is dear to me and everyone I love
    are of the nature to change.
    There is no way to escape being separated from them.

    My actions are my only true belongings.
    I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
    My actions are the ground on which I stand.

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  4. lomagirl says:

    I forgot how much I love this liturgy. I forget the last time I went to Ash Wednesday- was it last year? or the year before? Thanks for walking me through it. I didn’t even have time this year to think about Lent.

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