Two Ash Wednesday Poems
We're entering the time of Lent. A time wherein we're confronted by evil, by the depth of darkness and by Jesus' (and our own) temptations.
Our text for this week is Matthew 6:1-6 & 6:16-21 (read together with Gen. 2:1-7).
The start of Lent is, in most church traditions, marked by Ash Wednesday. This year Ash Wednesday falls on 26 February. We will be entering the time of Lent by partaking in the ash ritual on Tuesday at Bron. Everyone is invited.
During the time of Lent we would also like to encourage you to enter into a fast by either giving something up for forty days (from coffee to social media) or by learning a new habit (from taking on the gym to committing to meditation and prayer). We will also be praying at church every weekday morning from 07:15-08:00 and you're very welcome to join.
Just to get us thinking, here is a short summary on what Ash Wednesday is about, followed by two beautiful poems which you can use in your own reflection.
I like Dan Clendenin's short summary:
"This Wednesday Christians around the world will mark the beginning of Lent by observing Ash Wednesday. In these forty days leading up to Easter, believers devote special attention to the disciplines of repentance, self-examination, and self-denial. The ashes which many traditions daub on the forehead are an outward symbol of our inner penitence, and also a deliberately grim reminder of our mortality as heard in the words that God spoke to Adam in Genesis 3:19, words which are often read during Lent: “for dust you are, and to dust you will return” (NIV)."
Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)
Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . . This day — a gift from you. This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received. This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility. This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home halfway back to committees and memos, halfway back to calls and appointments, halfway on to next Sunday, halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant, half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday, but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes — we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth: of failed hope and broken promises, of forgotten children and frightened women, we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust; we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you — you Easter parade of newness. Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us, Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom; Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth. Come here and Easter our Wednesday with mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
TS Eliot (1888–1965)
Ash Wednesday (first stanza)
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
From TS Eliot, Collected Poems 1909–1962 (London: Faber and Faber, 1963).