I was trying to be a good mom two days ago by telling my three-year-old son about Ash Wednesday to help him prepare for and understand why we would be going to church and getting ashes on our head. I told him that's what would happen, and he asked why.
"Because we need to remember that doing bad things means we must all die," I said. Then, I hastened to add the good news: "It's ok, though, because Jesus will make us be alive again after we die."
My son started to pout. "No, I hate dying," he said, grumpily. "I don't want to." Yes, son, neither does just about anyone.
I do not have any spiritual-sounding words to offer on this day. I don't consider myself very spiritually profound. My mind is just repeating the words from funerals and Ash Wednesday services: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Or "From ashes you came, to ashes you will return." It reminds us that God made Adam from dirt, and when we die we return to the dirt.
When we go through hard times, my husband is wont to say that he can't wait to die. Not as a note of despair, but because he wants this broken world to be over so we can all be happy in the perfect new one. Our lives can be so good in the modern world sometimes that we forget just how permanently messed up it is. Ash Wednesday is a day to remember that, and wait with penitence until our resurrection.
Image by Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk.