Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year in the hospital for chaplains. EVERYONE wants ashes! We spend all day smudging a black cross on the recipient’s forehead with the reminder, “Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return.”
Every year at this time I wonder why so many of us actually WANT to be reminded that we are dust. We wear the ashes like a badge showing everyone that we have been blessed with this reminder. But how many of us realize that what returns to ashes, our body, is just the shell that contains the Divine which lives forever?
I spent quite a bit of time with a patient last week who was recovering from a third attempt at suicide. Like so many others, she described the darkness that enveloped her as she made the decision to end her life. She said she just wanted to stop her suffering. She had been let down by many people in her life and had suffered the loss of family members and friends. She could not see the Divine within her, she was so overcome by the darkness. I tired to remind her of the goodness within her, of the need to love and accept herself: the journey from the ashes to the Divine.
We all make this journey from ashes to Divine, but we often forget the Divine part of us. Like my patient, the darkness of the ashes can cause us to lose hope, even to the point of not wanting to live anymore.
Lent provides us the chance to reflect, to travel from ashes to the Divine. The Divine is in all of us. It is the ability to forgive, to be grateful, to love ourselves and others, to connect to God who is our Source. We are a drop of God’s Spirit living in a body, and when it’s time to return to God, the body goes back to it’s source, the dust of the earth. Our Spirit, that drop within us, returns to it’s Source, the Divine. The challenge is to live as the Divine drop within us, and not the ashes from which our outer being is made.
This Ash Wednesday, when you receive ashes, remember that you are Divine as well. During the 40 days of Lent, instead of giving up chocolate or meat, reflect on every piece of Divine grace within you. Let it shine for all to see. The light in you may dispel the darkness in another, reminding him or her of THEIR Divine light, maybe even helping them to chose to live and not die.
If you see someone suffering in the darkness, reach out and give them your loving hand. Listen, embrace, forgive, accept, and let your Divine light shine on them. Be comforted knowing that Jesus walked this journey as well, from ashes to Divine, shining His light on Easter Morning for all to see. He continues to walk with us, encouraging us to hold His hand as we travel on our life’s journey as we reach out and take another’s hand as well.
Perhaps that is the real blessing of Ash Wednesday, a reminder that we are ALL Divine.
My prayers will be with each of you for a Lent filled with Divine Light!