I’ve been thinking a lot about being the same stuff as the earth as I’ve been pottering around in the garden watching spring emerge, and reflecting on the parable of the sower, and other stories Jesus told.
Today, Ash Wednesday, I emptied our Baxi grate, and carried the ash to the compost heap, getting covered in the stuff as a gust of wind blew. It was a far more comprehensive ashing than we normally receive in church, and it felt given to me, a reminder of my state as dust, ash, earth. As I stirred them into the first grass clippings of the year, and yesterday’s lemon peel from Shrove Tuesday, I thought about the beloved tree that we lost in our garden, and how it’s kept us warm this winter. I gave thanks for it. I thought too about Malcolm Guite’s Sonnet for Ash Wednesday, that speaks of the burning of the world’s forests. I though how complex and delicate our relationship with the rest of the natural world is, and how easy it is to abuse and neglect its care.
It’s good we have these days and seasons – Ash Wednesday is right for penitence, and even lament, as we consider how separately we have tried to live from all that is good and true and sustaining. How we have broken the Shalom, the peace and harmony of God’s intent for us and for all things.
It holds its own remedy, too. People are normally given a cross of ash at a communion service, the great reminder and restorer of our unity with God, with each other, with the gifts of the earth in the form of bread and wine. With the gift of Jesus. Also, a reminder that we are one with the earth puts us in our place, and that place, if we stay with it long enough, is a deep unity and kinship. And that circled my thinking back to the parables, back to the talk I gave at Girton College ten days ago. It might help in the context of the burning of our world, and our state of being ash and soil. Jesus told stories that speak deeply to our nature, and the nature of God and the world. As we are made of the same stuff as earth, we can rediscover that connection, and in it find hope for an amendment of life, living more fully and abundantly, more joyfully and humbly and thankfully.
As we enter this season of Lent, may we be quiet enough to hear the whisperings, and the stirrings, of – not just new life, but a new way of living. We can repent – the Hebrew word normally translated such carries a meaning of turning back home, the Greek of having a change of mindset. Both of these carry great hope – the reign of God is very close, all around, within us, if we but look and see.