Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"And after this our exile . . " (Ash Wednesday)

My official Ash Wednesday sermon is here.   I'm preaching it again, partly because the crush of events the past few weeks have squeezed time until there is none, partly because I'm in a new place with new people who've not heard it, and partly because I like it.
My real Ash Wednesday sermon is more like this: I have become numb to this liturgical day.  We have had countless discussions, my friends and family and I, about human remains.  Ashes from last year's palms look nothing at all like human ashes. The former have become merely a ritualistic accoutrement for me and I am finding, to my astonishment, that ritual is losing its significance for me.  Human ashes seem utterly sacred to me, and I cannot conceive of a ritual that might encompass the vastness of the universe of love that they represent.  Nothing is ever enough.   
Every year I read T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday.  I suppose that I first read it under the tutelage of Miss P. in high school; she would have pointed out source after source for the imagery to her reluctant girls, we who were focused more on springtime than on Eliot's conversion.  Then again under Mr. M. in college who, because we were students in an honors seminar, left us mostly to our own outside reading for interpretive questions.  And then, year after year for myself, because, whether or not one imagines God, it would not be Lent if one did not ponder whether one hopes to turn again.
Different years, different lines.  This year, "after this our exile."  Exile is a good word.
Image: Haystack Rock, Oregon Coast, ashes to the right.

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