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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

There are stars in the ashes!

After all the pancakes and syrup, the scrambled eggs and sausages had been served at the Shrove (‘Fat’) Tuesday Supper, I gathered up all of the old, dried palms which had been brought in or had been stored since the last Sunday of Passion, and began burning them in the small outside kettle grille – the same one, by the way, we use to start the new fire of The Great Vigil of Easter.

Some of the little kids gathered around, sitting on the stairs, as my seminarians and other members of the church carefully tended the flame. We marveled as the flames occasionally fanned down and the embers would circle round and round, causing a fantastic glowing effect in the darkness of the kettle, lighting and warming the darkness of that cold February night.

“Look!” said Chloe, one of our very astute four year olds, “There are stars in the ashes!”

Which got me to thinking.

I recently read an article which stated that scientists are now convinced that we – the composition of our bodies – have more in common with stars than the earth. I like that idea. I like it very much. It gives me a new way to talk about the Ash Wednesday ritual of marking our foreheads with the ashes of palms.

At the first day of Lent, as each person comes forward for the imposition of ashes, I say to them, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This year, I hope we remember that we are star dust, and to star dust we shall return.

If we knew that about ourselves, then it might enable us to look at another person and remember that the dust of the stars lives in them, too. If we are able to see that little bit of the heavens in ourselves, perhaps we might recognize it in others as well.

And, if we recognize our connection to something greater than what is right here and right now, we may be able to work with others to make ourselves better people and make our world a better place in which to live.

Isn’t that what the holiness of a Holy Lent is really all about?

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a time to enter into “self-examination and repentance” and consider our “mortality and penitence.” As you sift through the ashes of your life, remember to reach way down into the depths of your being to find your soul. For it is there, in the smoldering embers circling round and round, that you may discover the stars.


kerribianchi said...

Beutifully Stated

Grandmère Mimi said...

Lovely, Elizabeth. We are all star dust.

Today was a bad day. Is that the proper way to begin Lent? I had the taste of ashes in my mouth. However, I went to the Ash Wednesday service, and I do feel better now.

Thanks for your post, Liza with a Z.

Eileen said...

Elizabeth+ - I very much like that image of star dust. Kids can be so profound in their simplicity and joy.

I went to the pancake supper and Alleluia parade at my church on Tuesday evening. This was the first time I'd ever been to an organized "event" for Shrove Tuesday.

Mother Joan lead the church school children into the church singing, with letters that spelled Alleluia. She had the kids put the Alleluia into a box which she keeps on the pulpit, so the children can see the Alleluia is put away until Easter. She had the kids up on the altar shouting ALLEUIA! a dozen times.

Then we went out and the kids watched the burning of the Palms to make the ashes. She explained the whys and hows and wherefores for Ash Wednesday to the kids. My son was the crucifer for the parade, and helped Mother Joan close up the triptychs on the altar and in the back of the church near the baptismal font. (And normally, my son has stage fright and doesn't like people to look at him!)

My RC mom joined us. We talked about what a shame it is that the RC church doesn't do that around here - and how much my kids learned while doing something fun.

And how they "know" Mother Joan, and are comfortable with her.

I'm so glad to be in TEC, and so glad to have a connection to so many good, strong Episcopalians out here in blogland - even with all the problems we are facing. Beats the heck out of the RCC for me and my family.


Bill said...

I knew it! I just knew it! I've always thought that I was not of this earth, that I belonged out there among the stars. But I guess I'll have to stick it out here for awhile. But when I do move on, I'm definitely going to have a sit down discussion with the Boss and see what She thinks about certain prelates in the Anglican Communion.

Jack said...


This is a great image. Carl Sagan talked about all of us being made of "star stuff" in his series Cosmos.

From a scientific point of view, stars are the forges which fuse hydrogen into more complex elements - including things like carbon, of which we are made. The death of stars, as in a supernova, distributes these elements across the universe. Carbon life, like humans, plants, and everything else
on Earth is born from the ashes of stars.

From a religious point of view, stars could be viewed as one of God's engines of creation, continuously building the elements of which life is made.

Bill said...

I couldn't resist. I love this song.

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer's day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they'll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still.
Perhaps they never will...