Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Here ends the year. Here begins the year. Today, our years are pressed into our forehead. Each life marked as an oily smudge. It is Ash Wednesday and for those of us who take the time, we collectively catch our breaths and remember where we came from and where we are going.
I do love this day, this most high holiday of mine. I love to walk through the corridors of New York City and see so many strangers on this one strange day with their lives smeared upon their faces. It is only for one day. When else do we say without words, with such collective force, “I am human, so very, very mortal?” And then tomorrow, it will be as if it never happened, our faces wiped clean of soot and tears.
Lent enters without a sound, like nightsnow, closing the door softly behind it. It is still and silent. Our mortality is our own. Our death is our own. Easter is so far away that our Lenten disciplines will fail and unravel behind us, unspun like a child’s ball of string. We have time. Life is our time.
And we are marked with ash to remember. This life bound by dust, this mortal coil, is fleeting and full of both grief and joy. Joy can wait. Now, is a season of grief, Lent. Grief is a kind of reflection. How does one look in a mirror and see what no longer exists? Grief is pondering of absence. It is good to grieve. It is good to understand life backwards, but we must live life forward.
The risk of grief, of lament, is the risk of paralysis. In the midst of a brutal, unkind, blind and deaf world, paralysis is when lung and heart stop. We must not stop. We must go on. Beckett ends The Unnamable with “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” This is Lent. We must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.
Jesus enters the Wilderness. He is alone. He is tempted. He must go on. He can’t go on. He’ll go on. Rome and The Adversary are waiting. They go on, too. We enter our Wilderness. We’ll go on.
Lent is not paralysis. It is not stasis. Lent is our lives in slower action. Dust is our stasis, our endpoints. On our faces we present our past and coming stillness in ash. We present this to each other. We carry our stillness as we journey through this day. We must have movement. But we must first be also still, if only for a little bit. To remember that we must move. Until we no longer do. Until we no longer can.
Ash Wednesday is the pause, the pause to remember our endpoints. To begin this journey of Lent. We cannot remain still for long. We must go on. We can’t go on. We’ll go on.