This is the first Lent shared by the Allen House Church. Instead of driving to a church building or chapel for the administration of ashes, I administered ash from a black block of charcoal left in our firepit. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," I said, as I smudged my daughters' foreheads with the sign of the cross.
Later I asked my older daughter, Anastasia, if she knew what the black dust was called. "Ash," I told her.
"What does ash do?" she asked, alight with curiosity.
"Well, ash reminds us that we came from the dust, and we'll become dust again when we die."
Her eyes widened. "No, I don't want to die."
"You won't die today, honey. Or tomorrow or the day after that. You won't die till you're old and gray and wrinkly." She smiled at the word wrinkly, but then she frowned again. "But I don't want to die."
"Everyone dies, honey. That's the way it works."
"But I don't want you or Daddy or Miriam or me to die."
"We won't die today. But we'll die someday. Everyone does."
One of the striking facets of leading a house church is that questions and answers become part of the liturgy, rather than an interruption to it. I no longer hush my daughter when she asks what's going on. I weave her question into the ritual. Anastasia feels comfortable asking me about everything we're doing and using for our liturgies. No subject is off-limits--not even death.
As a result, my daughter, at age four, has a clearer grasp of Ash Wednesday than I had throughout my childhood. I knew what death was at age four, but Anastasia knows that she will die someday, even though she doesn't want to.
Her resistance to death mirrors my own--I perceive my resistance more clearly through her fear. Having been reminded that my death and the death of those I love is inevitable, in what ways am I willing to become more fully alive in the time I am given?
A couple of weeks ago I realized that four (rather than three) is my Enneagram type. Since that revelation, I've allowed myself to focus on my creative work for at least an hour or two every day, and it has made a tremendous difference in my disposition. Instead of focusing my attention on tasks that primarily benefit others, I'm drawing out what's inside myself for its own sake, and it's breathtaking. It's art. It's me.
I've decided to resurrect my Master's thesis. I was having trouble with it because my approach to it was so academic and sharp. I realized that the way to salvage it was to transform it into a pastoral resource. I told some friends that some of my favorite liturgical writing resembles excellent preaching, and the trouble with my thesis is that it resembles very poor preaching. If I transform it into good preaching, it will be a good book. A publishable book. A useful book. A beautiful book. I've discovered that my writing is my art and my ministry to the world.
Now that I'm focusing inward instead of outward, I feel totally alive. And I love feeling alive again.
Thea is working hard on my heart. I'm grateful for the fruits that have come out of these last difficult months.