Ash Wednesday 2014…
The branch that was nearly bare last week
bursts with leaves – shiny, delicate, green.
Finches and sparrows dart among moist, shady branches.
Showing off, the grass glistens with dew.
Irridescent leaves and blades
reds, greens and yellows, too –
translucent and shimmering with new life.
Opening my eyes, I am awake to beauty;
Breathing in, I am reborn, soaking in new life –
potential and possibility
in each moment.
My phone lights up with words
calling me back to tasks,
to familiar thoughts and worries.
Will I breathe this new breath
and be a bearer of new life
or return to habitual anxiety
as I reply?
Today is Ash Wednesday. I wouldn’t have remembered except for the posts on Facebook and the foreheads of various people (who I’m assuming were Roman Catholic) in Trader Joe’s this afternoon, marked with a gray cross. On the drive home, I felt a pang of displacement, of being “without a community.” As I have continued to think about it, I realize that I do have a spiritual community, it is just more diverse these days and more spread out geographically.
My local spiritual community embraces Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and accepts a person’s freedom to walk his or her own path – with or without God at the center. In many ways it is a community which reflects my childhood upbringing – equally diverse – and my years in Twelve Step circles where members are free to define their Higher Power or God as each person understands God. Throughout my years of Christian ministry, this has always been my core. It is freeing to both return to my spiritual roots and to open new doors to deeper understanding.
Still, I honor the Christian tradition which has been my home and teacher for over twenty years. I am finding more and more – and this pertains to my thoughts on Ash Wednesday – that I reject much of the institution but I embrace the heart of the church – the life and teachings of Jesus, the wisdom of various prophets and disciples, the legacy of people learning what it means to live life in relationship with the living Spirit of the Holy.
If Lent is about death, guilt, rejecting one’s own worth and embracing only God’s worth, then I don’t think I it is my path. But if it is about spiritual housekeeping and renewal, deepening one’s relationship to the Holy, embracing each moment as a revelation of the Sacred, opening one’s heart in compassion for all living beings, letting go of ways of living that keep us stuck and which blot out light and life, then I can get with that program. That, after all, is what I am now dedicating myself to each day.
When I think of the ancient concept of Ash Wednesday as a day to meet with one’s spiritual counselor, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and commit to doing a thorough inventory of oneself in the weeks to come, I’m all for that. The intent isn’t to identify “wrong” or sin or flaws. The point is to open to the Sacred, and, if necessary, to remove obstacles to that opening.
Byron Katie defines God or the Sacred as Reality or “What Is.” She teaches us how to live in Reality. Eckhart Tolle talks about the difference between living life attached to the “pain Body” versus living life from one’s inner or eternal self or body. He teaches about the transformative quality of living in the Now. Pema Chodron, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nat Hanh and others (like the Dalai Lama!) teach about awareness, awakening – seeing our egoic mind and lower self along with our higher self, our Buddha nature. They teach ways of awakening the Buddha nature within each one of us.
Christians who are truly centered in Jesus’ teachings do much the same thing using different words and practices. They open their eyes and awaken to the “Kingdom” or Realm of God which is present for us in each moment, in every location – and become aware of the image of God, the image of Christ revealed in each person we meet.
So today, I will play in the dirt a little bit, transplanting some potted plants. As I play, I’ll reflect on the concept of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and think about the transient quality of my current reality and the eternal nature of my deepest self and its unity with the same nature in all living beings. I will light candles and blow them out.
I hope to open to joy, to the eternal, in as many moments as possible. And breathe in that life-giving breath – stretch my body, bend and release tension and fear – so that I may approach each person and creature I meet with love.