“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”
That’s depressing as hell. “Happy Ash Wednesday!” Said no one, ever.
These words, at the heart of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, are abrupt and harsh. They force us to think about that which we normally spend time and energy avoiding—death. We don’t like being reminded that we’re mortal, that there’s this looming end for us, that our lives will cease to be.
Our fear of death leads us to find ways to mask our mortality. We pay for makeup, anti-aging creams, hair dyes, and medical procedures that we hope will make us look younger. We laugh at death when we joke about our age. Ha! This birthday I got an AARP card invitation in the mail. Time to use that senior discount! We entertain ourselves with sacry movies that are about out running death.
Ash Wednesday cuts through all that deflection and says, “You are dirt, and you are going to be dirt.”
But then the liturgy immediately offers more, “Repent and believe the gospel.”
“Repent” literally means “turn around and go the other way.” In this context (and really in every context), repent means to stop being afraid. You might associate repentance with sin and think that to repent means to stop sinning. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that fear is at the heart of all sin.
So repent, stop being afraid, and believe the gospel. What is the gospel?
See, I’ve already lost so many friends at this point in this post, because the post is just too churchy. So many people I know want nothing to do with Christianity, and rightfully so. The church, which claims to house the faith, has hurt them too long and too deeply for them to see words like “repent” or “sin” or “the gospel.” Frankly, I somewhat count myself among them.
It’s sad. Because if you strip away all of the religiosity and church trappings, “the gospel” simply means “love.”
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”
“Yeah, you’re going to die. Stop being afraid of it and love instead.”
I’d much rather spend my life loving and being loved than being afraid. Wouldn’t you?
Happy Ash Wednesday, indeed.
No, I had enough half-and-half for my coffee, and the Häagen-Dazs sure as hell ain’t melted. I came home around 9 pm after a lovely, if a bit surreal (we were the only four folks at the restaurant) dinner with Førge and friends. The source of direity was: it’s cold. 27° was the low.
My oil lamps were frozen again, and my 1 lb propane canisters were empty. The plan was to refill them from the big tank I’d purchased earlier in the day. This refilling relies on the smaller tank being colder than the larger talk, so when they are hooked together, the liquid propane transfers to the cooler tank. It’s worked several times before, but last night the tanks were not cooperating. No propane transfered, and I couldn’t warm up the room before bed.
I could have gone to Førge’s. I could have gone to my landmate’s place where I saw evidence of a toasty fire. But some kind of—this will put hair on my chest, I’m a survivor, don’t be a wimp—mentality kicked in. Instead, I layered the bed, and I layered myself, then I nestled under the covers with Fred. (Gracie’s is in hospital at Førge’s while I work today.) Eventually, warm and cozy, I started drifting off to sleep until I thought, Don’t people say they start feeling warm and sleepy BEFORE THEY FREEZE TO DEATH?
No, it really wasn’t that. I truly was warm and cozy. The most dire thing that I experienced during THE COLD NIGHT WHEN MY PROPANE CANISTERS WOULDN’T REFILL AND I ALMOST DIED was, when I started typing up this account of it, my fingers were too cold to make the keypad on the phone work correctly.
I’m ok. May love and warmth find those for whom the cold is no joke and really is life threatening.
“What do you believe happens after death?” I asked Førge.
We were driving to the house where we’d been caring for a man named Be, both of us members of a community hospice care team that had provided Be with round-the-clock care for three weeks. Be had died the night before.
“Energy doesn’t just go away. I believe our energy becomes a part of something larger,” Førge said.
Be had always been something larger. I’d known them for less than a year, but each encounter left me feeling joyous. Their smile was delightful, and seeing it made me smile too. At community events, Be naturally held court. They often spoke of chosen family. Be once went on a cruise, sailing on the Queen Mary II. They wore a fabulous blue gown to the captain’s dinner and won the prize for best dressed. Be lived life large.
“What do you believe happens after death?” Førge asked me.
“I don’t know what it will look like or where it will be.” (I stopped to keep from crying.) “But I believe it will be just fine, whatever it is.”
“I believe in Love,” I continued. “Love will continue. Each of us will go on in Love after we die.”
Be loved to Love. I saw this most profoundly through their expressions of gratitude. In the last weeks of Be’s life, they were dependent on others for everything. “Thank you,” they’d whisper as they hugged me to get in and out of the wheelchair to the bathroom. “Thank you. I love you,” they’d say when someone said goodbye after a visit. I can only assume that this life of gratitude was the way they lived throughout their 90 years.
Love past. Love present. Why would we think there would be anything other than Love future after death?
I was driving when Førge texted me that Be’s pain medication was being increased. I pulled over and wrote the following, and I was fortunate enough to share it with Be and with others. I don’t know if Be heard it, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they know they were/are Loved, that they Loved/Love, and that Love will go on. I believe, this Be knew/knows. (Verb tenses get clunky when you’re writing about eternity.)
Release the pain and suffering you have experienced these recent weeks. For any harm you have caused in the 90 years of your life, you are forgiven, just as you forgive any harm you have known from others.
Embrace the love you have given and received not only during weeks of illness but also for the entirety of your life. Let go to go on in our memories, and let go to go on to the mystery that awaits us all.
Be blessed, Be.
Fred is old. Sixteen years old, the best I can guess. He’s cuddly and loving. He’s a great companion. He’s also a ruthless killer.
I worried about how he’d adjust to moving to the ridge. He’s been an inside cat all his life. The move meant he’d become primarily an outside cat. I took him to the vet for the first time in years to get his shots. I bought him an expensive seresto flea collar. After we moved, I gave him his favorite treats repeatedly to reinforce the idea of home. I did everything I could think to do to make the transition successful.
I shouldn’t have worried. Fred loves his new freedom.
One morning while I was away, my landmate sent me a picture of Fred under the house, standing over the fresh kill of a rat. I looked for the rat when I got home, but it wasn’t under the house. I knew before I found it that the rat would be somewhere in the house, and I was right. Fred left the headless rat on the floor beside my bed.
Yesterday, I walked into the bedroom to find a decapitated mole and two, kidney bean-sized aborted babies. One of the babies squeeked and squirmed as I grabbed it with a paper towel.
Fred is a murderer, and it seems he’s proud of it. Just look at him. His stare is paralyzing. I’m afraid to go to sleep at night, not because I’m think he’ll hurt me, but because I’m afraid of what new dead offering he might bring.
The picture, taken with my cellphone, doesn’t capture the magnificence of the night sky as viewed from the ridge where I live.
It was too hot to sleep in my bedroom last night. After turning in the bed, trying to find a comfortable portion, and sweating all the while, I laid a blanket on the small deck outside, made myself comfortable, and watched the stars. I thought about how, before I moved to this place where there is little light pollution and dark means dark, I went for weeks—even months—without looking up. Where was my attention if not turned to the natural glory around me? I may have been too turned inward to notice the sky.
Looking at the stars, it doesn’t take long for me to turn inward anyway. As I look, I think two things at once: Given the vastness of all that is, how is it that I am? And: Given that I am in the midst of this great vastness, how can my response be anything other than gratitude?
May I stay in the middle of those thoughts, humble and grateful at the same time.
When I was a kid, Daddy made fried pies. This wasn’t a weekly thing, but happened a few consecutive weeks throughout the year. He used to put a fried pie in my trumpet case. I’d woof it down in the band room storage closet before rehearsal. Think of all that sugar and pastry gumming up my trumpet 🤮.
Fried pies are about the only dessert that Daddy made that I haven’t continued to make. Until now that is. That was his pastry board, wooden pastry bowl (not pictured), and spoon. I made these pies for a pot luck, and they turned out pretty good.