Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

I’ve got ashes on my forehead.

Today the season of Lent begins with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. It puts us on the fast track to the Lenten themes of repentance and sacrifice, where we are called to consider our lives, see where we have fallen short of the mark, and resolve to do better in the future. Ash Wednesday draws us out of our wants and desires by reminding us of our mortality. The minister inscribes an ashy cross on our foreheads with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and once again we are pulled up out of all our daily cares to a remembrance that there is a certain end to them.

Bits and pieces of us die all the time. We shed skin, lose hair and cut fingernails, recognizing when we stop to think about it that we have shuffled off a tiny bit of this mortal coil with each cell and strand gone. But at a deeper level we die in other ways, too: when you want to yell at your child and you don’t, a certain bit of selfishness dies; when you don’t want to yell at your child and you do, a certain bit of self-worth dies. Every restraint we put on our actions, every failing that takes over our thoughts, every indulgence, every renunciation – with all of these, something within us dies and something is reborn. We are phoenixes of the first order, in a continual process of death and resurrection. We arise from the ashes only because we flamed into them first.

If we allow it to do so, Lent will take us into the bleak and the cold, showing us how much of it we bring upon ourselves or force on others. It carries us to the hardened places within ourselves that we may not like, and into the sacrifices that we may only grudgingly make, and it tells us to live here for awhile, until we can soften the hard places and recognize our sacrifices as simple exchange for the good that we receive. “It’s the way we take back our lives,” the priest said today, meaning that we make a little break in the “have to have it” mode of being that our culture offers to us. Why do we sacrifice chocolate or TV or sodas or buying new clothes? Because we can; because these are not necessities for living or well-being; and because remembering that is part of the pathway to peace.

For my own Lenten sacrifice this season, I am vowing to do at least 20 minutes of yoga and meditation every day. That’s 20 minutes of not doing work, or talking to friends, or playing games with my child, or falling into bed exhausted. Yoga and meditation, even just a few minutes of them, help me find a space of peace. They bring me to the calm center from which I do my best work as a writer, a mother and a human being.

So, a bit of Buddhist meditation and Hindu yoga as the response to a Christian call to repentance? Well, it works for me. I walk in the light of many teachers, because they all teach me this one thing: that to enter peace and act with compassion from within it is the sum total of everything I need to do in this world.


If you are looking for a way to bring a yoga practice into your own busy life, you might try an online class at It’s how I’m getting my yoga groove on these days.



  2. Thank, Amy - it's always a treasure to feel that something I've written has given someone even the tiniest spark of light.

  3. Very well said, Cynthia. You will be amused to know that you are being more Catholic than me this Lent, as I am still figuring out my Lenten practice!!!

    (I am subscribing to you in a reader now.)

    - Jerry

  4. I think keeping sanity in the midst of 4 kids is Lenten practice all its own!

    Let's talk next week - this one kinda disappeared on me.