Thursday, March 3, 2022

SOLSC 2022 #3 - Ashes to ashes

It is March 2022 and time for the
Every single day, for all thirty-one days of March,
writers will share stories.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for creating this supportive community 
of teacher-writers!

Last evening, I was riveted by a news clip where I saw ashes on President Biden's forehead - and these ashes went unmentioned by the newscaster. There are so many painful news stories burning in our world, no time to draw attention to this religious smudge across his forehead. I knew instantaneously what they were, no need to clue me in - yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Having been raised in a devout Catholic home and having spent all my formative years in parochial schools, I cannot NOT be aware of Ash Wednesday. 

This symbol of our mortality feels all the more poignant for me right now, having buried my dear sister-in-law less than one week ago. 

We are living through a time of ashes, I think. There is unending need for renewal.

I think about my childhood view of ashes, how 'sweet' this was. I played to the lyrics of a nursery rhyme or followed my family down the center aisle of the church to receive this strange gift, not fully knowing what ashes were all about. Well, there were those ashes in the fireplace. Or, in my father's cigar ashtray. Or, maybe a picture of a tree being struck by lightning in a National Geographic magazine. 

Over time, I have learned 
the profound, enormous, inescapable loss that is ashes. 
Also - how long, challenging, and essential 
the journey of renewal is, 
when something or someone is reduced to ashes. 
How life holds both at once - 
ashes and renewal, 
ongoing, continuing, never-ending.  

In recent years, both my parents have died and were cremated. I am no longer a practicing Catholic and their choice for burial surprised me so; I hadn't realized that the teaching had changed, allowing Catholics to be cremated. On the morning of her funeral, I carried my mother's urn into the church and set it on a small table in front of the altar. Today, I offer a poem that touches on these memories...

ashes to ashes

ashes to ashes
dust returned

I do not know how old I was
when I first felt 
the soft insistent pressure
of the priest's thumb
drawing a cross on my forehead 


From dust thou art, 
to dust you shall return

I knew not what it meant

ashes to ashes
dust returned

I do not know how old I was
when I first held hands
and danced
to the simple nursery rhyme


ashes to ashes
we all fall down

I knew not what I sang

ashes to ashes
dust returned

I do know how old I was
when I witnessed and held 
your urn 
felt a deep reverberating mourning fire within
washing through me

may you rest 
in the arms of the Lord
who formed you
from the dust of the earth


I knew not yet I knew

ashes to ashes
dust returned


  1. Maureen, your poem is gorgeous and haunting. I love the repetition and allusion to the nursery rhyme. This reads like a hymn, but the most profound part of your post is in these lines: “ We are living through a time of ashes, I think. There is unending need for renewal.” I could not agree more. I might need to write about this and a thought I’m having after reading your post. Superb writing today, my friend.

    1. Thank you, Glenda. I've been thinking lots about the coupling of ashes with renewal - they really do go hand-in-hand.

  2. Maureen, amid your poignant words of mourning, I find a place of deep solace. It comes through those lines of being encircled by the arms of the Lord, much as you encircled the urn in your own hands. Love. Ever-present. Untouched by ashes, unharmed by fire. Right there in all the loss. It IS a time of ashes, "deep reverberating mourning fire within" - and the Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). Prayers, strength, and peace to you each day. Beautiful post.

  3. A beautiful beautiful poem, Maureen. I will remember it. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Maureen, what a beautiful post and poem about your mom. I especially like: "I knew not yet I knew." Yes, to rest and renewal. Thank you for this today, Maureen. I'm so glad you have joined the SJT group too.

  5. Maureen, it sees we have a bond between us: remembrances of early days as Catholic school girls and Ash Wednesday. I am sorry for your recent loss. "The symbol of our mortality feels all the more poignant for me right now." I agree, we are living through a time of ashes: COVID, Ukraine, death surrounds us: we feel a need for renewal to wash away the stain of hurt. Repentance, renewal intertwine and flow in your slice as does the tender poem you wrote at your mother's passing. May you find peace this season of renewal.