Sunday, March 28, 2021

SOL21 Slice 28: From the ashes


I am participating in the
All participants are sharing stories about moments in their lives, writing 
 every day for the month of March 2021.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for nurturing teacher-writers!

No one was around when I slipped into the portico, found the small box and fished out the little dime-size plastic baggy, which I quickly zipped into my jacket pocket, and then I continued on with my run. If someone had seen me, they may have been somewhat suspicious - what was I up to with such furtive movement? Well, to collect ashes for celebrating a virtual Ash Wednesday . . . that was some five weeks ago, the start of Lent. Today is Palm Sunday, and I breezed by the church portico again to pick up palms, to wave from our couch during the virtual service. Yes, it is a little - or a lot? - strange to be experiencing Lent in this virtual way, yet - in the big scheme of things, isn't it remarkable how we are persevering? 

We are finding new ways.

Lent has meant more to me than it has in many, many years. It's emphasis on wilderness, sacrifice, and loss has been especially poignant during this season of pandemic. This Lent is also the first without both of my parents - and I have been flooded with memories of my Catholic childhood, the strict observance of all the rituals and traditions: 
  • Fat Tuesday where I ate all the naughty things I intended to give up during Lent, 
  • followed by Ash Wednesday and ashes in the sign of the cross on my forehead, 
  • meatless Fridays (this is such a non-issue for me as an adult - I rarely eat meat on any day), 
  • praying the rosary,
  • Palm Sunday (this was the LONGEST Mass, oh my, oh my, I'd adjust my sitting position on that cold, hard pew over and over and there was no mercy, no escape, the readings went on and on and on), 
  • foot washing on Maundy Thursday, 
  • stations of the cross on Good Friday (the only day of the year that Mass is not celebrated; I really enjoyed this service, with almost a 'story-telling' of the life and crucifixion of Jesus)
  • ending with Easter Sunday service, where I always wore a nice, new, spring Easter dress. 
I stopped practicing Catholicism in college and, although I still consider myself Christian, all these rituals and traditions pretty quickly became a thing of the past. 

this pandemic, 
combined with both my parents deceased, 
magnified the symbolism of Lent for me,
brought all those childhood memories back.

When my own (progressive Christian) church offered these familiar symbols - the ashes, the palms - in our church portico, I felt called to go by and get some. 

This year, this year, this year. 

I decided to just surrender to whatever grief-fueled, 'flashback,' confusing emotion I am feeling, dare to participate in Lent as much as I felt inclined to do, and see where it might lead. I decided to go on my own personal, inward journey, not one tied to any particular creed. Surprisingly - actually, as I write, I am realizing that this isn't really surprising at all - I have found so much strength and solace in nature. Take for example this extraordinary tree I discovered:

You might be thinking - wait, that is no tree. You are right, it's just the remains. It's the hollow remains of a tree's trunk. Arborists have been identifying diseased trees in our local park, and this big, old tree was cut down, leaving only a 4 foot section of its stump (to be removed later, I'm sure). I couldn't believe the sight when I peered into the trunk - decay, rot, worn, uneven irregular edges, strange fungus and molds growing within, and totally hollowed out at its core. There are so many different colors and textures to death. Just one week ago, this tree was tall, thick, and strong-looking (to my non-arborist eye), growing on the bank of the creek, and now it is gone - and, from this look inside its trunk, I see that it was already long "going." This rot did not happen overnight, it was deep within. How long did it take to become so diseased? How early in the tree's life did the decay begin? What went wrong that it grew this way? 

I looked again into this hollowed trunk, and do you know what I saw? Through the hollow of the tree, I could see the water in the creek. Yes - water, flowing. It was amazing to be able to see all the way through the tree into the creek itself. I was filled with this sense of awe - oh my, this is ashes to ashes. Cycles, continuous cycles of life, life going on.

This Lent, I feel the passage of time, 
this keen sense 
of past, 
of gone, 
of forever. 
Yes, there is so much that is broken.
Yet, there is so much that turns me toward hope.
I continue "to rejoice in the precious now" (my minister's words on Ash Wednesday). 

"There is always something left to love.
And if you ain't learned that, 
you ain't learned nothing."
- Lorraine Hansberry


  1. The segue from the rituals of the Catholic Church and the way your practice a “hybrid” (not sure if this is the right word) form of these traditions to your observations about trees and the way the tree appeared is so relevant in this moment. Remember that essay about the U.S. already being a dying/dead country and not knowing it from a couple months ago? That’s what I’m thinking about, yet despite these signs of death, there’s hope. I see arborists among us hewing out the rot so we can see the flowing, life-giving water. I have never practiced lent, but I love reading about others’ ways of honoring this season.

    1. Thank you, Glenda, for this thought-provoking comment. I do remember that excellent essay you shared. There is a lot of rot that has been revealed in our country, that we have been blind to; this is definitely a parallel to my tree.

  2. Maureen, I love the way you hook the reader at the beginning of your posts. This opener remind me of your horizontal elevators and the iGOTTAgo app you wrote about earlier this month! So funny! It really does make us wonder what you are going to be confessing.

    Yes, I often find myself drawn to Glenda's comments and the wisdom she shares. There are definitely some parallels to your tree.

    Thank you for your rich post about your past and present commemorations of this season, and the memories of your parents in this first Lent without either one of them are significant too.

    1. Thank you, Denise! I was hoping to hook the reader!