On this Ash Wednesday, I couldn’t get these words out of my mind, or away from my step.
“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… And later T.S. Eliot writes, “Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.
Pray for us now at the hour of our death.” (T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday)
But today, this day of mourning, of humbling ourselves by smudging ashes on our heads,and thinking about our lack, our mistakes, was full of joy, the lift up your hearts, we lift them up, shout for joy, joy. Bruce asked if we would bury the hallelujahs in church. I didn’t know. Though it was a mysterious and beautiful thing we did last year, putting the printed shout for joy in a box in the earth until Easter. No more hallelujahs until March.
I know I’m out of step, always out of step, because I should be feeling my guilt.(I grew up to years of feeling guilt, shame, sorry, so what a relief it is to feel joy, to thank God just for being alive on this day, in this body, walking this road.)
It was bitter, but the sun broke the horizon and aimed its light and heat right at the spigot, breaking the freeze, so water would run. This is pure gift when the weather turns bitter because I don’t have to haul buckets up from the basement. I wonder if the stairs will hold my weight and the buckets’ weight. I fear toppling backwards and the hard thump in my heart.
When I am this happy, I remember to turn on the dishwasher, to run the laundry and set out the garbage. It’s easier to serve when you feel good. Right where I set the garbage I saw a set of coyote tracks. It’s good to see them, though an uneasy thing they are running so close to the house. Whenever I think of the coyote, I think of the trickster, the joke being played, with a little bit of fear. I think of the scatter of feathers, my chickens gone because I left the door open.
They’ve been silent the last month or so. The last time I heard them sing, they sounded off across the field, so close I shouted for them to go home. I know, they were home. They sing when a train is coming or when they kill something. We were seeing calves being added to the large angus herd living across the way, a herd both mares obsess over as if they are moving black holes that might swallow them alive. The day after I heard the coyotes, I heard gunshots in the woods, and then this silence, until I saw the slender tracks.
Today was a day to get off the farm to read for WNIJ and visit with a good friend, Laura, both of whom allow for my flaws as I work out what I think about our culture and politics. It’s not always so pretty, and definitely not politically correct. I want to challenge the narratives, to ask people have you thought about this? But I don’t have the softness, or the research or wisdom down pat. I am grateful for these friends who accept me. (For us to have these honest conversations, we need to listen, and maybe hold the person in higher regard than the narrative, and forgive because none of us will say everything perfectly, nor should we.)
From dust you came to dust you will go.
Our pastor smudges ashes on our forehead and we walk back to our seats. I think about how I have stretched myself on the ground, exhausted, and felt the earth speak, with comfort, those Mother Earth arms holding. I think about the graves we’ve stood by, the dirt tossed over the box, the clatter. Sometimes flowers are dropped. I think about the immensity of the universe, of time, how things never turn out the way we think, how this will be true of our dying and the New Heaven and New Earth. Even Paul warns that eye has not seen nor ear has heard what God has in store. I am afraid; though if I died this night, with this joy, it might be like stepping from room to another, or dipping through a barbed wire fence into a whole new, unharvested field, the hay moving like sheep in the wind. Something lets go inside that feels like trust, the kind of falling you do when you know you will be caught.
I think about ashes, how fire makes them, how they are gray and smear, how they are cold. Job sat in them. The people in the Bible put on sack cloth and ashes when they were truly sorry and wanted to make a change. Bruce shovels them out of our wood stove, dumps them on the manure pile.
But this day I’m not sitting in ash, or burned out fire, no I’m sitting in hope and thanksgiving for this living body, wrapped in cuddle duds and denim, cotton and wool.
This doesn’t always happen, but some times you invite a person, they invite you back, and you both are blessed, deeply blessed. My generosity came back like Night turns and runs fast, as fast as he can, back to me.
My poem, “A Mother’s Apologies” was chosen for an audition for “Listen To Your Mother.” Just being chosen to speak is an honor. Dean Robertson wrote a wonderful review of The River Caught Sunlight that called my work by name and that felt like a blessing.
So there is joy, this day of mourning, there is joy. And so I will give thanks for this green pasture and still water because I know grief will come in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, and with it Jesus, the Great Comforter.