To think of ash is to enter into the reality of endings, absurdity and temporality; bringing to mind that everything in life that we often work and strive for is in reality a dead end, a waste of time and even if truth be told, if actually thought about, not worth the effort. I think of the ash fallout after an atomic bomb has left devastation in its wake. People, going about their business, driving, working, eating and laughing and planning; all suddenly ended, in a flash of light, blasting everything to just dust swirling in the air. From one second to the next, what was once solid and real suddenly becomes ‘as if it never existed’.
No wonder I don’t like ‘Ash Wednesday’; who really wants to be reminded that we are just like the ‘grass in the field’; green one day and the next dried out and brown. There are still moments when I am surprised that I have actually aged and now with some exceptions, the next in line (in a generational sense) to get my ticket punched and to become one of the many, the majority, who for the most part have been forgotten; not even a memory; yes, as if they never existed. Yet in spite of this bleakness, there is much in life that is beautiful and worthwhile, deep and enduring and those things are related to love, beauty and truth. Not sure which one is the most important, perhaps they are in reality one.
Nothing can be grasped at, nothing held on to, for time takes everything eventually away from us…., but there are ways to grow into a life, into a way of being, that perhaps for those of us who have faith believe to be something well beyond this world of instability, temporality and unfulfilled dreams. It is not a ‘pie in the sky’ kind of belief; for I am sure that moving on to the next world is in anyway an escape from the responsibility that we have to live our lives to the fullest extent that is possible.
Endings seem final, for some that is the ultimate truth about life; it is just over and the seeming absurdity of life is actually what it seems; we die, become ash…. that’s it folks. Lent seems to point to something beyond, to a life which blossoms after the fire of suffering, loss and deprivation, has done its work. For ash comes about from fire and for me it is obvious that the fire of hell, purgatory and heaven are the same, it is all based on our relationship with the Infinite that makes the experience of this fire a lived reality,. So there is something left beyond the ash, a life that is something outside our ken to understand. Perhaps, Lent tells us the simple truth that life itself is a lent and there is no escape from that reality. We just have a season that gives us the time to ponder about temporality and how our seeking satisfaction apart from what is truly essential does not work.
I don’t think I have ever had a ‘good’ Lent, I always suck at it; even as it stares me in the face trying to teach me its lessons. I am a very slow learner and most people I know, do a much better job of entering into this season of consciously letting go of something that ‘seems’ essential, but in reality, is just one chain perhaps among many, that keeps moving forward either impossible or very slow.
Conversion is a life long journey… for after the first exhilaration of turning towards God, there is the slow journey of self knowledge that leads to a child like (not childish) dependence on God’s grace, mercy and love. In any case, there is no escape from the ‘fire’, how we experience it depends on our own free choices. What is not free and compulsive will be burned away slowly as we make our way up the mountain towards union with the infinite. What is actually ‘sin’, a free choice, well that may take even longer. Growth seems to be a process that takes time; for grace has its own timetable that seems to not take into consideration our own thoughts on the matter.