Yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service left me somber, tired, and glad that the fire alarm didn’t go off in our 200 year old historic sanctuary. The service culminates with our pastor setting fire to scraps of paper we offer, scribbled with transgressions, sorrows, misdemeanors and the mishmash of “whatever it is we need to leave behind.” For those brief moments of flame and silence (and worrisome smoke), the communion table looked more like a hibachi grill.

We then impose the sign of the cross on our forehead, dipping fingers into the resulting ashes — but I barely made a smudge. I was half-hearted through the whole service, mumbling through the gray hymns.  I’m not ready for the countdown of Lent.  I don’t want to “give anything up.”  Not more than is already being taken, slowly, neuron by neuron, day by day. I want to hold on to things.

Then I stumble on this by Annie Dillard, from The Writing Life. She’s reflecting on the writer’s tendency to horde/save the ripe metaphor, the sleek phrase, the elegant word, for fear if offered, it will be used up, gone for good:

“Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes,” she writes.


<images in this post, above (Night of Dreams) and to the right (Awaiting Thunder) courtesy of Charleston batik artist Mary Edna Fraser,;

~ by Stephanie on 02/18/2010.

3 Responses to “ashes.leave.smudge”

  1. Stephanie, I’m not sure how you can write such gorgeous prose, post after post after post. Thank you for reminding me tonight of one of my favorites, Annie Dillard — it’s been too long since I’ve delved into her own beautiful writing.

  2. This is beautiful, as is the posting below. Thank you. I came today at Elizabeth’s urging, and am so glad that I did.

  3. I found you from Elizabeth’s post at a moon worn as if it had been a shell.

    Moving reflection. And true. Life is only what have this moment, all we’ll ever have to share.

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