Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

The crush of ash against skin. The slow vertical scrape, then the slow horizontal one. The words breaking the silence:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Remember. I remember. I remember the Wednesdays growing up, chapel Wednesdays, when I and my parochial school classmates would learn how to sit in pews and say our prayers and sing our songs. I remember Wednesdays in Indiana, when I would drive to church after work, seeking sustenance amid a vocational crisis. I remember Wednesdays at seminary – the ones that didn’t fall in a reading week – when vestment-clad professors walked in with solemn purpose, encircling the newly circled chapel chairs, leading us in the low rumble of Martin Luther’s “Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” and I experienced the full cosmic drama of worship as if for the first time. I remember the Wednesday in Mexico when we woke early to receive the ashes from an old priest in the Guadalajara cathedral, shuffling past the beggars selling rosaries outside the great wooden doors. I remember last year, when I put the ashes on my own thumb for the very first time, and made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the old and the young:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And I think of the years passing through my fingers like dust, and I pause, if only for a moment, to remember what I am. And whose I am.

On the way home, we pass people in the neon-lit streets with dirt on their foreheads, people waiting at bus stops, people sitting on the El train, people walking to and fro, all of us made of the very same thing.

Kyrie eleison.

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