Yesterday as I took my daily walk I stopped at a nearby ravine and watched as spring runoff water ran through the creek that lay at the bottom. I knew that the creek would eventually empty into the Burrard Inlet and ultimately out to the Pacific Ocean. As I watched I recalled the saying from Ecclesiastes, ‘All rivers run to the sea but the sea is never full’ and I wondered how healthy this creek was given its location within an urban center. Was it laden with city pollutants as it made its way to the sea? As I stood watching the creek and listening to the sounds of the birds through the competing noise of road traffic, I found myself also thinking about Ash Wednesday, March 5th.
I have always liked Ash Wednesday. It is a day that inaugurates the liturgical season of Lent for many Christian communities worldwide. Lent is that liturgical season during which we are invited to examine ourselves, amend our ways, and return to the Ground of Our Being, the “I Am Who I Am” who we call God. A moving part of the Ash Wednesday ritual is the blessing of the ashes and the signing of participants’ foreheads with the ashes while the words “Remember man, woman, that you are dust and to dust you shall return” are spoken. Taken together these words and the ashes remind me of my humanity. It is a reminder to remember my mortality and my place in the flow of life. From this remembrance I find myself better able to reconsider my actions and my way of being in the world to see if I am properly aligned with the greatest needs of peace, justice and integrity of creation.
Every religion has its rituals and its symbols. Of course, from a socio-cultural anthropological view we know that this is how communal religious identity is formed and maintained. But at a deeper level lies the personal religious identity. The individual ‘who’ that belongs to a group is formed and nourished by rituals and symbols. Rituals and symbols are effective and powerful precisely because they operate at the depth of the human heart upon which community depends. The reminder of the Ash Wednesday rite and the wearing of the ashes on my forehead throughout the day help me to become a better person, a better advocate, and, I think, a better member of secular society.
This year I plan to approach the ashes as a reminder to be an advocate of justice, peace, and sustainable living and to amend any personal actions that impede this work. From this renewal I hope to continue to contribute to actions that assist in the flowing of life among the peoples and ecosystems within which I live and move and have my being. Maybe I will grow in my appreciation of the ‘sea’, which is never full and continues to ebb and flow with Being.