Ash Wednesday, 2021

Our little local church did a lovely, meditative service online this morning, but it didn’t land quite where my heart needs solace or challenge right now. I can’t quit thinking of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. I can’t stop hearing the phrases: “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” I think some of us go to the “I’m not good enough” or “I need to change and be better” place much too easily all on our own. I know I do.

When the pastor invited us to write down our intentions for these next 40 days, what we’d like to give up or let go of for this time of self-reflection, I wrote down:

“I will take a morning walk or do yoga.”

And I started to write, “I will let go of my self-criticism and my smart ass remarks.”

But even that is rejecting some part of myself. Instead, I guess, I will sit with these pieces of me, these ways of reacting to life, and see if I can love them, too. See if I can honor the self-protection and the vulnerability that are beneath my defenses and fears. Mostly though, I think I will allow the sun to warm my face and arms, the wind to blow through me. I will be in the world of nature savoring its beauty, the natural cycle of death and rebirth, the dust of spirit brushing up against my feet. And I will breathe in its life-giving energy and let it heal my hurts each day and try to claim my place in the family of things.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver, Wild Geese