It was Saturday morning. The brisk arctic air had already drifted into the metroplex, and I had begrudgingly rolled out from underneath my weighted blanket and comforter at a time that was completely inappropriate for an adult of 30 something years old.
Bleary eyed, I ground my coffee, stirred by the burring of fired beans refined into a powder, and I made a Chemex brew I could leisurely sip on all morning. I nestled into one of my reading chairs in the “library” (an aspirational term) while Millie dozed on her bed next to my great-grandmother’s baby grand piano.
Notes of dark chocolate and lavender drifted and swirled around as I sipped the roast encased by the cup that warmed my hands; the darkened drink gleaming gold against the light peeking through the blinds.
I was ready.
Joyfully, I opened up to Psalm 90 (NET) — one of the Psalms for the day from the Revised Common Lectionary.
“…So teach us to consider our mortality…”
“so that we might live wisely…”
Any warm fuzzies created by this idyllic moment of coffee, dog, book, family piano, and winter was smashed by these words (and a few others from the Psalm).
I’ve ignored Lent for a few years now. Life had seemed Lenten enough. I just didn’t have it in me to intentionally dive further into a wilderness I already inhabited. Is this good theology or a robust Anglicanism? Nope. But I didn’t really care.
And so here I was, mere days from Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, confronted with these awful words of “consider our mortality” — words eerily similar to the blessing prayed over us as ashes are spread on our forehead in the shape of the cross, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In the past, I’ve struggled with these words. I mean, I understand the need to repent, the need to fast, the need to pray in the season preceding Easter, but why focus so much on my eternal resting place in the ground, and why kick this season off by staining my forehead with the moribund?
On Saturday, after the whimsy of coffee with man’s best friend and the scriptures turned drab, the Psalm explained so simply, so succinctly, the purpose of this odd ritual.
On Ash Wednesday and subsequently during this season of Lent, we “consider our mortality” so that…
“we might live wisely.”
When we remember that we will die and return to the earth, just like all those who came before and all those who come later, it forces us to think about the life we are currently living and the life we are called to live in Christ. This consideration is not meant to cast us into shame or a form of legalism to right the ship of our wayward lives. No, the smeared ashes force us to loosen the grip we have on our lives, and choose to open it to the Spirit, so He can fill our emptied hands with the seeds of a wise life.
Mary Oliver ends her poem, “A Summer Day,” with these two lines:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
As we “consider our mortality” this Ash Wednesday, may we not forget the purpose of doing so:
To take the gift of our one, special, wild, precious life and consecrate it to the Lord so that we may live wisely for and with the One who died and rose for our sake and the sake of the world.