Friday, February 24, 2012

Ash Wednesday: His name was Isaiah

It’s a beautiful,sunny warm day for Ash Wednesday. Chris opens the doors for me. Matthew’s cast is rehearsing his musical. I go across the street to Key Foods to buy some olive oil. When  I get back, Anna the caller with the wild fantastic stories is sitting quiety in the back of the sanctuary, her little dog in her lap, listening. When the rehearsal moves to the chapel, she will leave. 
Jim gave us an envelope last week filled with old palms. From their dryness, I’d say they were a couple of years old. But its good to have palms from one of our own Palm Sunday services. I find a small metal bowl. Take it out to the steps. Fill it with the palms. I light them. They flare into flame for a moment, then die away to ashes. Bringing the bowl back into the church, I thiunk if Joseph and his sage and cedar smoke. Danielle says she likes the smell of tthe palms. I mix in a little olive oil. 
I replace the green cover for the communion table with purple. One simple candle. My Christ statue from Columbia, a present from the Sanchez family years ago. My purple Guatemalan stole is missing so I wear the very simplest of stoles with my wheat colored alb. Ready.
As usual, the first person to come is an older middle aged Latina. Probably works in the neighborhood. Rafael is next, slightly shy. Wants to know what it means, so we sit and have a conversation. About mortality. A journey everyone takes, rich or poor. A moment to stop and reflect on that journey. Make corrections, changes. Anything we give up, not so much a sacrifice as a discipline. I feel honored to do this with him. As I do with Steve, who is next. 
I really do love this day.  It wasn’t part of my growing up. It was something alien, even a bit spooky. Something they, as in Catholics, did. Not us. I’m glad that in our 1990’s book of worship, the Presbyterian Church finally offered a service for the imposition of ashes. I enjoy the steady stream of the people, the opportunities for pastoral conversation.
I talk with Hope about this as we work on finishing the statistics. Se grew up as I did. But watching the people come through, quietly, one after the other, she begins to understand why I am glad to do this with/for the commununity. Later in the afternoon we’ll finish the statistics, hit the send button and we’re done. Something either fitting or ironic about doing those stats on Ash Wednesday.
A woman comes in. Very sad. Weeping. Asks me if I’m gonna call the cops on her. I assure her not. She’s an actress. Been on tv. A movie or so. Nothing big. We talk about depression. Meds. How hard it is to find the right therapist. What a crapshoot to get the right meds. We talk more. Then I put the ashes on her forehead, make the sign of the cross, pray. I walk out with her, Thanks, she says, you helped me feel better. A little. I smiled and said, sometimes a little counts, and she smiled back. 
They keep coming, as evening begns to draw near, darkness outside. Arcadia, like every year. Then she brings forward a Mexican worker and I do his all in Spanish. Jamie is in, with her Jewish neighbor. We talk about the connections with the days in between Rosh Ha Shanah and Yom Kippur. The traditional Jewish understanding of mortality. Jane overhears this, and will later come back herself and ask me to do ashes for her. That for me is, again, an honor. 
The last are two African American women, mother and daughter? and a young man of 4 or 5 with dreadlocks. After I have done the women, I turn to him. What is your name, young man? and he looks up at me, looks me in the eye and says, with resolution, Isaiah and I say, that’s good, a prophet, and do his as well. 
I’ll wrap up, join Hope and Arcadia and Hugo for dinner at Popover’s. 
Ahes to ashes, dust to dust. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return....

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