When I was young, my Dad smoked cigars on Sunday afternoons. The scent of them made me feel safe. It was a sign of completion. We had gone to Mass, we had finished brunch, the sun was shining, there was nothing else to do, and Dad enjoyed his cigar.
When I was a teenager, I visited a convent regularly. Each time the ladies in Formation attended a class, the Formation Mistress lit a candle as a sign that God was present. They began with a prayer, and then the lesson began. At the close of the lesson, the candle was extinguished.
As a young adult, I lit candles to help me focus. If I needed to work on an especially difficult project, I lit a candle to remind me that God was always present in my life. (I needed reminding often.)
As a Mom I take my children to light the candles at the side altars before Mass. The act of lighting the candles helps them enter into prayer more deeply because they are trusted with both lighting the flame and speaking their words to God.
My whole life has been a cycle of flame and ash. The lighting of the flame means something new and different was about to begin, how exciting! The ash always meant that it is done and wasn't that nice.
I thought the process of turning palms into ash would be simple and beautiful, just like life. It was actually a slow and meticulous process. Cuts and burns were involved. I had my doubts that I had the skills to complete the task. As the process went on, God reminded me that I was not alone. I stepped back, swallowed my pride, and gave the task to my husband. In the end we had a jar of very fine ash. The afternoon began with fire and ended in tears and ash. Just like life.
Together we presented our ashes to our priest, and he was very impressed with our work. He had purchased professionally burned ashes that were of lower quality than what we had presented to him. I hope the ashes I present to the Lord this Lent are as well received!
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to announce good news to the oppressed, to strengthen the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom to those held in captivity and release to those who have been imprisoned, to proclaim a year of the Lord's favor and a day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to give all those who mourn in Zion a garland of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a spirit of despair. And they will be called oaks of righteousness planted by the Lord to show forth his glory. Is 61: 1-3