Ashes to ashes: the journey begins…

March 5, 2014 | Uncategorized

I usually enter the Lenten season like gangbusters. Armed with books and plans — overly ambitious plans — I typically approach Ash Wednesday in spiritual attack mode. And by the second or third week of Lent, I’m totally deflated and disappointed. This year has been very different, and I haven’t yet figured out why. I sort of backed into Lent, still pondering my plans right up until I headed to church for Mass and ashes early this morning.

Maybe it’s an age thing. The older I get, the more realistic I become about what I might actually accomplish this Lent, or any other day of my life. I know how easy it is to set giant goals — spiritual or otherwise — and give up in frustration before any new habits have taken root. It’s why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. So this year, as we begin our 40-day journey through the desert toward resurrection, I am going in with a very different attitude. I’ve packed lighter for this journey. Yes, I still have plans, and they’re still probably too ambitious, but they’re at least a little closer to possible than impossible. And, to be honest, if I do nothing more than revive a couple of favorite prayer practices over the next few weeks, I will consider this special spiritual season a smashing success.

So I hope you’ll join me on the journey. I plan to pop in here with some book recommendations, some updates on how things are going, some spiritual inspiration I find along the way, and some classic Catholic food for thought to spur us on. I’ll try to be here regularly, but at the same time I plan to cut back on the amount of time I spend online, so we’ll have to see how that balances out.

Chiara and I have made a joint pact for Lent: no iPods or laptops, no Flappy Birds (her) or Facebook (me) from dinnertime on, except on non-school nights. She was so happy when I said I would do this with her, I think because she knows if I’m not on Facebook, I’ll have more time for her. We’ve also agreed to some other special activities  together during our newly cleared evening schedules. Again, even if that were the only positive thing to happen this Lent, it would be more than enough. So keep in  mind that you can do things this Lent that may not be overtly spiritual but have great soul power nonetheless.

So we start this season with the stark reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return. Even if you got the more contemporary refrain with your ashes — Repent and believe in the Gospel — that smudge of ash from last year’s burned palms is reminder enough of our temporary status on this planet. It’s such a beautiful way to begin, stripping it all down to the basics. We are here, but not for long. What do we plan to do with the brief time we have? How important will God figure into those plans? How will we treat others along the way?

Blessings as you begin your own journey through Lent. I will pray for you. Please pray for me.

And here to send us on our way is a poem by Mary Oliver. It came to mind as I was writing this post. Perhaps it’s also not overtly spiritual Lenten fare, but it is full of spirit and soul power appropriate to this season, I think:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

— Mary Oliver




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