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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Ash Wednesday

T.S. Eliot's poem "Ash Wednesday" begins with what sounds to me like a parody...."Because I do not hope to turn again....
...Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice...

...Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death....

I am thinking of the meaning of the ashes that have been placed on Christians' foreheads on Ash Wednesday for centuries. What do they mean? What was the meaning of the words I heard as a child (and even recently) as the ash cross was placed there: "Remember, man, thou art but dust and unto dust thou shalt return."
But I am not. And nor are you.
Apart from the fact that I am not a man, so 'woman' might have been more appropriate, we are not dust and we won't return to dust. How can it be said by the same voices who read the Gospel that says: "You are the light of the world....You are the salt of the earth...Every hair on your head has been counted....You are the children of God!"
Latterly, for the most part it was changed to, "Repent and believe the Good News!" which is clearly far better. But why the ashes, really?
To remind people that they are sinners? Doesn't everything else proclaimed by churches drill that message home anyway?
It's interesting how they say people generally live up to what is expected of them. Wouldn't it be lovelier to hand people a candle at the beginning of Lent and say, "You are the Light of the World!" And then everyone could go out and 'let their light shine' instead of grovelling in the pits of being sinners.
T.S. Eliot's poem coninues:

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

'Not to be separated'....and, surely, the only separation between humanity and One Life that expresses that humanity, is humanity's sense of sin. It isn't the sin, but the sense of sin that separates humanity from the Divine, for the Divine, surely, has no sense of sin whatsoever.
So the ashes? Could a magnificent and abundantly giving Creator/Father/Mother/Source ever require people to so abase themselves?

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