Dust you are; to dust you will return.
Love’s you are; to Love you will return.
I’ve just lit a fire in the woodstove of the small cottage where I’m spending this Ash Wednesday. I first removed some of the copious ashes of last night’s warm and companionable fire. Those aren’t the ashes I will impose on my forehead later today – I’ve brought others from the burning of Palm branches. Still, the ashes from the small, bright fire remind me of the beauty that has created them – flame sustained by air. This was not the fire of devastation or ruin; I cannot write without remembering those. This was a fire that danced and murmured, that caught up body and spirit together and ignited imagination. It left in its wake ashes, but not only ashes. It left the words I’m writing and the clear encouragement to a vivid repentance, a re-orientation to the Beloved’s beckoning.
Ashes mark the threshold of this day on which we make our reverent pause. They both unbalance and steady us, weighty and odd enough to remind us of the profound and wonderous paradox that is our life. “Ashes to ashes” say the words of the English Burial Service and dust to dust. This would be bleak if it was all there was. But, there is this – before, and through, and after the dust and ashes, Love.
We are a story of dust and ashes but we are not only that. We are those particles animated and shimmering with Light. Round us and through us is Love, the air that sustains the fire of us.
Dust we are, to dust we shall return.
Love’s we are, to love we shall return.
How good to be reminded of our finitude. What energy is released in us by the acknowledgement of our limits. What desire to feel the pulse of Mary Oliver’s flung longing, “[. . .] all my life I was a bride married to amazement / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms” in When Death Comes And what relief to know that on those days when we are skeptical of amazement or closed to the world, turned in on ourselves, the press and memory of ashes again come to turn us toward Love.