This is a selection from my book, Into the Wilderness, which is available from Apollo Ranch Institute Press: http://apolloranchinstitutepress.com/books/
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
I thought Ash Wednesday was the title of a poem by T.S. Eliot until I learned about the liturgical year in divinity school. One day I had a chance to learn more about Ash Wednesday.
It was a very, very busy day. I arose at 5:00 a.m. to catch a train from Southold, on the eastern tip of Long island into New York City, where I was scheduled to tape a television interview. A ministers’ meeting was to follow the taping, and then I would rush back out to Southold to meet with the Religious Education Committee.
Oh, my, was I busy! And important. It isn’t every day, after all, that one gets to be on television. But I kept thinking of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who scurries around looking at his pocket watch, saying, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.”
After we taped the program, two of my colleagues and I left the CBS studio to make our way to the Community Church, where we were late for the ministers meeting. As we bustled through the subway and the crowded streets, weaving around less hurried pedestrians, I realized that it was Ash Wednesday. I was reminded by the sign on the foreheads of many who passed us. What looked like a smudge of dirt was the sign of the cross made with ashes from palms blessed the previous year on Palm Sunday. I recalled not only what I knew of how the ashes are used, but also the verse from Genesis that is recited to each person as the ashes are rubbed on the forehead: “Remember…thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” Every time I passed someone with a smudgy face, I would hear the verse again: “Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”
I slowed my pace, lagging behind my companions, and paused to reflect that I was dust, already late for a very important date.