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I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday.  This is important to know.

It’s the pause in my day between my services and I’m taking a chance to eat something and work on my vestry agenda for tomorrow.  Season 2 of The West Wing is playing in the background because I love Aaron Sorkin and I know it well enough that I can work and listen.  And in the middle of all of this I’m still bothered by my sermon.

It’s a good sermon.  I make good points.  Gospel points.  I believe everything I say.  Still, it’s under my skin.  And then a character on the show, a one-off character so I don’t know his name, says, “My entire life doesn’t have to be about this one thing.”  And I think but “sometimes it is.”

Sometimes my entire life is about being a priest.  (Try dating me, being my friend for very long and you’ll learn this lesson.)  Sometimes my entire life is about having had brain surgery and my health issues.  Listen to my sermon.  (Except, of course, you can’t.  I’m sorry.)  Hear me talk about mortality and death.  I learned those lessons the hard way.  The way of pain and suffering and blood work and tests.  Of having looked into the certain knowledge that death was close.  Sometimes my life is informed by one aspect of my life so completely it is as if my entire life is about that one thing.

All of that often makes me a better person and a better priest.  But this week, this week between MRI #17 and the doctor’s appointment, this week when my mortality is a little closer to me, I wonder if my knowledge of my mortality has bleed too close to my priesthood.  Because if my schedule were different, my sermon would be different.  It’s a good sermon.  I just wonder.  I wonder what other words I would have found, would have said.  What other part of the Gospel I would have proclaimed.

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

Last year was the first time I had imposed ashes.  I had the opportunity the year before but knew that it would have been too close to my second surgery, too close to the last time I faced my own possible death, for me to solemnly remind others that we are all mortal without falling apart.  It was a good choice.  Imposing ashes last year was a wonderful and awe-filled opportunity. It is one of the many mysteries I look forward to continuing to participate in through my years in the Church.
There is such power in the Ash Wednesday reminder that we are dust and to dust we will return.

My Forehead, My Thumb

When it is my forehead
it is the creamed grit and gentle coarseness,
the earthy feel of the dirty smudge
which I must later wash off,
this smeared ash that I feel
the abrasive reminder
that this is what I will return to

When it is my thumb
it is the smooth, resilient skin that I feel
the eyes full of need
and hope and fear that I meet
my hand marring the baby’s unknowing sweetness,
my thumb on elders’ papery skin
it is my voice which murmurs
the poetic reminder of mortality
and I know, amidst all these signs of life,
that we are returning to dust

written 2-6-08

I had planned to post this poem for several weeks and when I saw Christine’s Invitation to Poetry this I saw that she had a similar thought for the day.  Click over and read through other people’s offerings.

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