Although it is not as bad as it was when younger, there is an element within my soul that dreads Ash Wednesday. I think of deep dark holes that could swallow me up. Or a world that is covered with ash after a great war, or the fear of being without life’s necessities and naked in a dark cold landscape, and that is better than when I was younger.
Perhaps it is because even though I am a man of faith and as the years fly by, that faith takes deep root, yet there is the ‘Inner Atheist’ or ‘Cynic’ that is still very much alive and perhaps keeps up with me, as the other side of the coin, my faith journey moves forward. A love of God, and a feeling not a belief that God is impossible. God as absurd, yet this world without God or an Infinite intelligence is in reality even more nonsensical.
Pulled in both direction, yet I seem to be able to hold my peace and just stay there and makes acts of love and trust in that Infinite mystery, something eternally knowable but always unknown to me. I get it, embrace it, and have a glimmer of understanding and then when I seek to grasp the answer; it turns to ‘ash’.
So yes, Ash Wednesday brings me face to face with the depth of faith and the pull of unbelief.
Yet, Ash Wednesday always brings to mind the deep suffering of Jesus Christ. A suffering that I cannot even begin to fathom or imagine, for I am way too shallow and too weak and fearful, to be able to bear too much suffering, or the absolute nakedness before God that Christ experienced in my stead. Perhaps this is because of his love is still experiencing in space and time through each of us, his beloved children.
Christ Jesus driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit; a place of sand, dryness, danger and possible death from a lack of water, freezing nights and unbearably hot days, where there was no comfort, a true dark night of the soul for someone who did not need it but undertook for love of ‘me’. Every ‘me’, there are billions of us ‘me’s ‘, how is this possible?
Yet it is, even if I have yet to grasp any deep understanding of this central point of the Christian/Catholic faith.
One day I will be ash/dust, buried behind our Monastery Church, no coffin, just a shroud and a face cloth, tightly wrapped as if to protect my lifeless body from the cold. Jesus in the tomb, his life turned to ash, wrapped tightly and enclosed in a cold dark tomb…..what a frightful image. If I was there at his tomb, surely it would have been apparent that it was over, like everything else in the world….finished, over and as if he never was. Yet the obvious was not to be.
Ash and darkness, coldness and a dark tomb, obvious, yes of course, for that, is the end of all things. Be it the Universe, our world, our country, and finally all of us ‘me’s’ in the world. Yet that darkness was filled against all expectation with light, power and healing love on the third day. The relationship that Peter thought was truly ash, by his denial of Jesus was against all expectation led to healing, compassion, and understanding.
So we live in a world where the unexpected can happen. One day we will have that experienced brought to full light, though we live that mystery now. Ash shows us that, all things end, it is not a pleasant thought, but what happened on ‘The Third Day’ after Jesus was buried awaits us all. Then we will truly know what our heart loves or perhaps hates.