Today happened to be another Ash Wednesday in which I was home-bound on medical leave.
Once again, like in the past, I was dealing with endometriosis. The pain was increasing even though I was menopausal, and the hysterectomy proved that there was a lot of rogue endometrial tissue in my pelvic region. I’m on medical leave and not able to lead worship as I take time to heal.
Which brings me to this year’s Ash Wednesday. After two weeks of lying in bed, doom-scrolling news about the invasion of Ukraine and heightened nuclear alert in our world, the worst thing right now is to remind someone who is deathly afraid of death that she will die. (Obviously, there are many dying in Ukraine from this senseless war- and something for us to discuss another day.) I worried about what could go wrong prior to the surgery (as always), and I dealt with two years of pandemic concerns. The last thing I want to hear through sacred liturgy is that I’m going to die.
I know this with every fiber of my being. My anxiety reminds me each day that death could be imminent.
So for this year, I work to establish a different relationship with the ashes.
First of all, everything is fleeting. And this should include my worries. My concerns should be no more than the weight of the ashes which could easily be blown away by the wind. Easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort.
Secondly, as I begin Kate Bowler’s Good Enough devotional book, I’m reminded of my imperfections. The ashes remind me of an imperfect self and the need to embrace a self that works to try her best rather than attain the impossible.
I refuse to rid myself of Ash Wednesday. But the day was not always ours to dwell on death but focus on what continues to be the greatest priorities while we are alive: loving one another as Christ loved us; doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
And today my focus won’t be nuclear war, health issues, or pandemics, but my growing relationship with God.