Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Tonight, Reservoir Church celebrates our first ever Ash Wednesday service. Our spin on the ancient church season of Lent – what we call our 40 Days of Faith – tends to start the Sunday six weeks before Easter.

But this year, we honor the traditional beginning for those interested, a Wednesday in which we remember our own mortality and God’s grace in loving us – limited as we are – and in carrying our lives and all of human history and everything else that is too big for us.

One of our pastors, Cate, found this poem, which I wanted to pass on for you all as well.

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

–Jan Richardson

Be Patient, Oh Tortoise

At Reservoir’s fall retreat, I read this poem on Saturday morning to introduce a time of reflection and prayer. I shared that at first, it seemed to be a funny poem about a stupid animal. Then over time, I realized that it is also a funny poem about a stupid me. I am so slow to learn, and God is so eager to forgive me and to be with me and enjoy my slow learning.

Scott Cairns: On Slow Learning

If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how difficult paper training can be
for some pets.

Even if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the the value of achieving the paper
there remains one obstacle –
your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth.

Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys
to be painfully far from the mark.

Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell,
utterly ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Forgive him.

–Scott Cairns, “Slow Learner” in Compass of Affection: New and Selected Poems (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2006), 5.

However you are slow or challenged today, take it easy on yourself.
Jesus is eager to take it easy on you.