"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

you are dust and to dust you shall return

In case you missed it today was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. As sacristan at the seminary, I spent this morning preparing for the worship service where the community would remember the fragility of life in the face of the gift of salvation that we will re-remember come Easter. We printed the bulletins on grey paper, I set up the missal, poured the wine into the flagons, took care of all the last minute things that come up and then mixed oil and water with the ashes of burned palms. And then as the serving party gathered and prepared to process into the church, I turned out the lights in the sacristy and left out the back door.
Partly, I was probably taking advantage of the remaining liberty to opt out of a liturgical responsibility while I still can. I've been busy looking for positions for after graduation (with some tentatively positive responses, thank you) and its really beginning to sink in, that someday soon, probably before Christmas, I will be a parish priest somewhere and I won't have the same ability to take a pass anymore. So, maybe the next few months are a kind of Rumspringa for me before fully committing to the life I have been called to and assented to live.

But mostly, I think it's that I don't really need to be reminded of the ever-present reality of death right now. I spend an hour or two nearly every weekend with the dead and dying. A couple of weeks ago, I attended seven deaths and a stillbirth in just under 30 hours and frankly it all kind of piles up emotionally. Now don't fret, I have people to talk to and decompress so my emotional and spiritual health is fine but my experience as a chaplain, even a part-time one, has brought me to a much more tangibly real experience of death than I'd ever known before. In a way, I think I will welcome Ash Wednesday in the future as a reminder to me of the intensity of the past year and a half as a chaplain and to honor the memory of all of those I've been privileged to be with as they die.

1 comment:

  1. As Bill said yesterday, choosing a Lenten discipline takes discernment - and you exercised yours! Blessings, friend.