Wednesday, March 5, 2014

From Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first ten years of my life, I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. We attended church at Fairview United Methodist Church. Being so close to the school, we benefited from many amazing musicians. I remember sitting with my grandparents, looking up at the pipes for the organ in awe and listening to the chorus.

Then my dad decided to take us to North Central Church of Christ. The loss of music, incense, candles, alienated me. I liked those symbols. The austere building, the loss of an actual altar and the loss of children's church confused me. People around me talked about those symbols as if they were bad. No wonder I love the ritual of Wicca. Or that I delight in my current Episcopalian home.

So today Cameron stayed home with contractors and I used my comp time to get off work early for services. Oddly enough, both religious experiences seemed to come together today. Of course, the priests still wore robes. But there was no chorus. A silence, a kind of peace, filled the church today. I found the service powerful.

As the priest smeared the ash on my forehead, he said, "From dust you were made and to dust you will return." Dust. Mortality. Death. My own death. It brings a solemn hush. Three clients were in my office at different times this morning speaking of death. A mother dying of cancer. A brother dead 21 years ago of Down's Syndrome. A cousin dead of a motorcycle accident a week shy of his 19th birthday. But always we spoke of someone else's death. Grief. Bereavement. Those things no one but a counselor will talk about. A place of sacredness only equaled by birth.

Of course, Christian faith centers on resurrection and judgement day. I tend to keep my rather heretical thoughts to myself, because I do believe in reincarnation. This very interesting site explores such thoughts: Christian Reincarnation: The Long Forgotten Doctrine. Nevertheless, death has walked with Cameron and me these last few weeks, as seen my previous blog. So the service touched me deeply as I reflected on Walt and our family dealing with suicide.

I called Cameron on the way to the service to talk about why we have Lent. Cameron pointed out a great many people see it as a time to recognize what Christ went through for us and to offer our own kind of solidarity by fasting or giving something up. Indeed, a co-worker had posted on her Facebook this morning, "What should I give up?" Cameron offered an interesting column entitled: Don't Get Caught In The Lent Trap. Father Mike talked about the things that distance us from God, and about how giving things up isn't always the answer. Some people choose to add something to their spiritual life. Now, this makes sense to me.

I must have channeled Walt Monday when we went to visit Jazzman. It's not usual for me to drive to a hospital on the other side of two towns over to visit a stranger. That is, however, the person I want to be. And I kept thinking about the things Walt did that mattered. Moreover, a bible verse keeps playing over and over in my head:

'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36).

There were no flowers in Jazzman's room. There were no cards and no visitors when we were there. And in that moment of compassion we met a good man. With an intestine on the wrong side of his belly, Jazzman was able to laugh and cry with me as we talked of differences and similarities. Of dreams and wrongs. A man who, like me, was caught by the descending arc of the IT world and after the last job, ran through savings accounts, the 401k, and ran the unemployment out and lost, or has nearly lost, everything. Funny, intelligent, well-read, and able to keep me on my toes regarding politics and philosophy, and culturally completely different from this lily-white-assed northern transplant. I found a brother. Family of choice because we all need tribe.

Safely tucked into my warm bed with a job to go to tomorrow, I ask, "What is the point of the day?" The point is, I think, I am on to something. The next step of my own spiritual development and growth is this service to others. I carry with me a renewed awareness of my own mortality. I turned 50 in September. Even if I live to my great-grandma's age of 92, I'mg more than half done. As I watched the predominately gray-headed crowd move toward the altar for communion, I was reminded of the lack of kindness to the body that aging brings. The drooping shoulder, the walkers, the canes and the damage of the years wearing on each face. Mortality. So what do I want to do with this time I have, however much the Spinner of Destiny allows?

Hmmm...I've already answered that question, haven't I?

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