|Rev. Douglas Sparks in 2016 - downloaded from the Rochester Post-Bulletin.|
Several years ago, my perspective on Ash Wednesday changed. Dana, one of my colleagues who is a dear friend, is married to an Episcopal minister. The early morning of that particular Ash Wednesday, I was rushing to my office in sub-zero temperatures when I saw a crowd on a street corner. In the middle was Rev. Doug, imposing ashes on the people hustling to their destinations. I watched as he, bundled in a thick jacket, boots, hat and scarf, lovingly formed the sign of the cross on foreheads, and the cold turned his breath to frost as he mouthed "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
I stepped forward to receive the ashes and tears sprang as I considered how Christ-like his gesture was. "Bless you," he said, patting my arm as he turned to the next person.
There have been a few moments in my life where the world came to a screeching halt and I came to the realization that much of what I stress out about on a daily basis just isn't important. Rev. Doug's Ash Wednesday gesture was one of those moments.
To hear the news headlines tell it, the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine's Day is one of the more significant conflicts facing our world this week. And in a way, I get it - the mother of all Hallmark holidays tends to be more about romance and chocolate than mortality and ashes. You don't have to be a marketing genius to know that "Roses are red, violets are blue, I am from dust, and you surely are, too" doesn't play well amid roses, cupids and red heats.
But the more I think about it, the Ash Wednesday/Valentine's Day combo seems to be a perfect metaphor for what the world seems to need more of right now - a little more humility and a little more love. We only need to visit our news feeds to be reminded of the conflict, turf wars, violence, poverty, discrimination and any number of horrible things turning the world to ashes around us on a daily basis.
But ashes are a great equalizer. No matter who we are, no matter how blessed, no matter what we think we have achieved in this lifetime, we are dust, and to dust we shall return.
What we need to contemplate is how to sift through the ashes and find purpose.
This Wednesday, I'll receive ashes. I'll also throw my arms open to those people and things in my life that have fallen to ashes and need some love and attention. I'll look for purpose in the grieving, the sick, the marginalized, the depressed and the downtrodden. I'll reach out to those who feel unworthy, unwanted or unloved. I'll try to find patience, tenderness and grace where it's needed. I'll try to make some gestures that are charitable and kind.
And I'll probably eat some chocolate. I'm no saint.
What the world needs now is love. What will you seek amid the hearts and the ashes?