Thursday, 11 February 2016

Ash Wednesday

The bit of dirt on my forehead is the ashen cross -
hope it doesn't give me excema like it did Alice last year.
Went to the Ash Wednesday service last night.
One of my favourite services of the year.  The other is Good Friday.
Possibly I’m better at doing the gloomy contemplative bits of my faith than the jolly rejoicing.
Lent is a time when I, along with so many others, focus on my spiritual life.  The turn of the seasons reflects my spiritual progression.  We start Lent when the branches are still bare, when fresh produce is not yet being harvested in Northern Europe and the pickles and salted meat of the Autumn before are running low. 
As the early spring swells into being, spiritual strength glows like a bank of crocuses then  gets flattened by a gail of doubt.
Like a well-plotted novel, we move inexorably toward the greatest crisis – the death of the Saviour.  Also like a great novel, there is a twist – on Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph – the children in church lay down palm leaves in the aisle and one of their number, with the obligatory tea towel on his/her head,  processes over them on a toy donkey.  We all cheer. Surely it’s all going to be alright after all.
But by Good Friday, we know it isn’t – the worst has happened. 
Then Easter Sunday and, if we are lucky, blue skies and blossom.  Only with the possibility of the worst  can the best happen.  The Resurrection and the promise of a life to come, to hold onto through the trials of this world.
More than any straightforward religious text, TS Elliot’s Ash Wednesday speaks to me

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.


This is an extract.  For the full poem Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot