Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. Even the ancient language can't hide the message, though it is a truth I spend a lot of time and effort pretending doesn't apply to me.
Lent always catches me unprepared. Ash Wednesday comes really early for me each year, even when Easter is later in the year that usual, like this year. I know it is because I would prefer to think that ashes to ashes is just a saying and not a reality. I suppose it is because I do that thing that many people do...pretend that life will go on an on.
For creatures who know from the outset that we will someday be dead and gone, we sure spend a lot of time imagining, pretending that is not the case. We think it's morbid, somehow, to talk about the thing we all will do, eventually. We will die. We will be gone from this earth. But there is such a cultural restriction on talking about it that we have made up a litany of phrases to avoid saying the words. 'He passed away. She went to her maker. They passed over Jordan. When I'm gone.'
Bob and I are in that strange time of life when dying has turned out to be something people our age are doing. We watched it happen to our parents, and noted their surprise. But somehow it is different when it is you.
When I first heard FOMO, someone younger than me had to explain that it was an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. I applied it in my mind to fear of missing parties, events, fun things that others got to do. But now I see I have FOMO. Ultimate FOMO. Because I don't want to be gone. I don't want to think of our loved ones going on without me. Of the generations to come that I will never see. Of the Christmases I'll miss or the family birthday dinners where I won't be singing along.
Some might say that a Christian shouldn't feel that way. That our faith should be strong enough that we don't fear anything about death. Maybe that is the case for some people, but I would not be honest if I said I don't mind the idea of being dead and gone.
But here comes pesky Lent. Today. To remind me that I can't put my faith in this life. That I will die. And that I need to do some work on my attitude toward death. Just look up books on dying and you will see how big this task is for human beings, by the number of people who have written about it. And that doesn't count the huge numbers of people who wrote about it and didn't get published. Or who grappled with it and never wrote down a word. It's a subject so deep and wide, so ultimately unfathomable that it is sometimes easier to ignore it. Until Lent. Lent may be a church season, but it's also a time of life. It's a time when we are forced to turn and look at this thing we don't really understand.
Today when I get ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, they will be an aid to me. They will be a benediction to my spirit. Because they remind me that death is not the end of my relationship with my creator. It heals me to know that there is solace in that symbol of sacrifice and death. And that burned-up palm branches/cries-of-hosanna turned to grief at the foot of the cross reminds me that there is no death I can endure that will separate me from the love of God. Though that doesn't eliminate my fear, it gives me hope that even in that state of human need, I will not be alone. And I have no doubt that God has the whole FOMO thing covered in some fabulous way that I can't imagine on this side of the great divide. Sigh. Since Lent is here, since it is a time and and a state of mind, I'll take the ashes for the gift they are. And I'll say it's okay, even when it isn't, because I have to believe that ultimately it will be.