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?