Christine Valters Painter has written a thought-provoking essay on Ash Wednesday and lament, which I highly recommend to you. I've been thinking about it since she posted it a few days ago, trying to discern where it does and does not resonate with me. I've been thinking about it as I try to make a decision about whether to go to the Ash Wednesday service at our church.
The essay begins with these words:
"Ash Wednesday marks a threshold when we leave ordinary time to enter into the journey of Lent through the desert. The desert is that uncharted terrain beyond the edges of our seemingly secure and structured world, where things begin to crack."
I hadn't noticed the reference to ordinary time until just now. It's only been a couple of days since I mentioned that the term "ordinary time" has lost its meaning for me. And as someone learning to make her home in the desert, I don't need Lent as a portal. My secure and structured world is long gone and I'm here, building my house right on top of the cracks, because there is nowhere else to go.
Nevertheless, I sent the essay to a friend who has just lost her brother, and she responded with gratitude and said that she has forwarded it to family and friends. And I'll be sending it to two other friends this week. One's husband died of cancer a year ago today; we had breakfast Saturday. One's husband died three years ago Thursday, and we are planning a long walk in the cemetery that afternoon. One told me that she has been focused on distractions; the other, that people clearly want her "to get over it." I think that the essay will speak to them both, each in her own place of grief and longing.
And I think I'll stay away from the service Wednesday night. As I did last year. As I should have done two years ago. I have spent so much time this past year caring so gently for ashes ~ ashes that have become one with the forests and streams of the North Carolina mountains and with the waves of the Atlantic ~ that they have lost the distance that a symbol requires to persist as an invitation and gift.
I do plan to observe Lent. But I am looking for signs of life around my little house in the desert. Perhaps I will find a truth beyond the song of lament I now know so well. What do you think of this illustration ~ both the house and the name of its locale ?!
Plexiglass House in Wonder Valley CA, here.