LENT BY T.S. ELIOT
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,/Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood/ Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still/Even among these rocks,/Our peace in His will/ And even among these rocks/Sister, mother/And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea, Suffer me not to be separated/ And let my cry come unto Thee.
The beads still draped our old oaks. Costumes lay about the house in disarray. The day is unusually still and quiet lacking laughter, muses, and music. Some may still be pretending to continue the revelry that was Mardi Gras 2012 but that too will end; usually with two aspirins and a long sleep. The feast of Mardi Gras began simply as gatherings of people to empty their larders and consume the meats of the household – always a good occasion for fun and festivity. So it is the larder is now empty and to what end?
So many communities in New Orleans know the idea of measured time and loss. For LGBT community it is the memory and sometimes returning specter of HIV-AIDS, a gentle generation lost. For our African-American community it is a holocaust of urban violence killing more than a hundred almost two hundred young people a year because of some misguided notion of “respect.” For so many dozens of fishermen and coastal workers it is newly acquired breathing ailments and illnesses. For all of us who have stayed in New Orleans and not left since Katrina it is now settling down into some sort of chronic PTSD rife with depression and anxieties from now where.
We measure time and loss and time in New Orleans is measured by the seasons of festivals and seasons of quiet. The party, for now, is over it is time to think of time itself. Ash Wednesday is an ancient custom. We do not know when it started but it can be significant. We know in New Orleans it is as much a part of our culture as it is faith, “where ya gonna get ya ashes?”
Humility is not a strong suit in our community these days. I was recently told that it is the birth right of every gay man to be dramatic and to accessorize. My experience tells me this may be so (I say with a slight nod and smile). No, humility is not strength in our community today: not in straight community, gay world, black world or even church world. It seems that we are all so fixed on “being me” or claiming our places that we have little time for self critique. This makes sense when the world is already such a harsh critic about who and what we are even by the clothes we wear, the bars we hang at, the way we walk or talk or carry ourselves, even church liturgies. The world seems to stand in judgment so why would I want to self examine, self critique and bring any sort of negative thoughts or feelings in an intentional way into my life?
The fact is we are broken. Paraphrasing Paul, “We do those things that we wish we would not do and those things that we wish we would do we do not.” Ash Wednesday acknowledges just such a state of being. When the ashes are placed on the forehead we acknowledge that we have but a measure of time in this life. When we pray the prayers we seek some form of humility that we are no better nor worse than our brothers and sisters who inhabit this planet and that indeed we share one great thing in common – our time is measured.
Have you lost a lover, howsoever? Is he or she gone and perhaps things left unsaid? Ashes tell that story. Have you lost a child, innocent, to an errant bullet? Ashes tell that story. Have you lost a child to the streets with a “9?” Is his voice and shooting his expression? Ashes tell that story. Have you lost a loved one too early to illness and the longing still remains? Ashes tell that story. Have you lived in anger and resentment because of rejection born out of who or what you are? Ashes tell that story. Has the one you thought you loved damaged and hurt you, beaten or abused you, taken you for a ride? Ashes tell that story. Are you so much in love that you cannot imagine living without the one you love; you dread that day of ages when they may not be here; you’ve made a deal that they must die first. Ashes tell that story: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” the words during imposition of ashes.
Ash Wednesday is a great symbol of life and speaks to all things that are not perfect, all things hoped for, all things denied, and all things. By acknowledging that we come from dust, we acknowledge that we are part of the Big Picture, the cosmos, this earth, always and everywhere. By saying that we shall return to dust, we acknowledge that time is measured and we will continue to be a part of that Big Picture. In receiving ashes, we seek and find, just for a moment, humility and in so doing, acknowledge the value of all people and things around us and indeed our own value – without make-up or cover-up – just as we are. For just a moment, we let something else be bigger than us – call that thing GOD, call that thing ALL IN ALL. Those ashes in cruciform upon the forehead say, “I live, I love, I am who I am, I am imperfect, I have a measure of time, how shall I be?” and most importantly, “I am loved by the force of all nature – the first cause – GOD.”
All are invited, none are shunned: St. Anna’s Episcopal Church will offer the imposition of ashes at Noon, followed by Stations of the Cross at about 1:00 PM and then again, a full Solemn High Mass with imposition of ashes at 6:00 PM. Join us in humility because you are who you are and our time here is measured.