“They treat me like dirt” she muttered through clenched teeth. She might as well have shouted it since she was in the desert alone, but this was not the shouting kind. This was the venomous, under your breath kind.
She had left town running, but didn’t have the strength to keep that up so when she was out of sight she continued at a pace somewhere between a fast walk and a slow jog muttering all the way. When she spotted the spring in the distance she slowed down. That’s when it hit her; she had no idea what she was doing. She was five months pregnant and walking alone in the desert in the middle of the afternoon with no plan and no place to go. She tried to silence her thoughts and be strong – God knows she was strong. But God knows she was practical too. Practicality was what got her into this mess in the first place, and practicality kept her thinking. But the more she thought, the more her practicality gave way to emotion, and that too was what got her into this mess. A she approached the stream she could no longer hold it in and buckled under the weight. There in the sand she sobbed. After a while she did her best to pull herself together. As she was standing up she looked at the sand that was now sticking to her sweaty arms and she Abram’s voice in her head,
“He told me he would make my offspring like the dust of the earth. So, Sarah and I were talking…”.
The anger returned. She knelt by the stream and splashed the water at her arms trying to get the sand off and than stood up. “Keep moving!” she said, this time loud enough for someone else to hear. And someone else did.
“Where have you come, and where are going?” he said.
Yesterday was ash Wednesday. In workplaces, restaurants, and crowded subways sat and stood people with ashes smeared on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. They were there as a morbid reminder to those around them,
“From dust you are
And to dust you will return”.
Meet your quarterly’s, enjoy your wine, ride home to your kids, but don’t forget – you’re going to die.
Why can’t we just skip Ash Wednesday? This all seems a little dreary in an already dark world. Still, year after year, people walk around with these ashes on their foreheads as reminders. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we need these reminders.
On Ash Wednesday we’re asked, “Where have you come from?”. This question comes to us, like it came to Hagar, in the midst of our running. It’s says to us, slow down and think about your life. What brought you here? “We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. We cling to the surface out of fear of what lies beneath the surface.”, says Buechner. Look at the ashes. Look at your life. What lies beneath the surface?
And, “where are you going”? You have no choice in the matter, you will die. So, before your vapour disappears, how will you live? “if you do not interrupt your life with convictions of the death to come, then neither shall your death, when it comes, be interrupted by life” writes Walter Wangering, Jr.
Where have you come from?
From dust you came.
Where are you going?
To dust you shall return.
And yet, Ash Wednesday is a part of a larger story. The big story is not about our death, but about Jesus’ – The one who died our death. For those who choose to remember, there is still the scent of breath in the ash.
“When we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord…Memento! — because this death, remembered now, yields life hereafter. And that life is forever”.
-Walter Wangering, Jr.