Ash Wednesday Reflection
Karl Barth is known for the saying, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Afterall, the story of humanity is being told in both texts with the same struggles being lived out centuries apart. A clear message that the wisdom of scripture is needed as much in our current context today. As I think about writing for Ash Wednesday, when the theme is death and dying, I can’t help but tweak Barth’s quote a bit. What is going through my head is to preach with the Bible (or your scared text) in one hand and your full identity in the other. For me, this means preaching Ash Wednesday with a focus on death and dying knowing that I have a terminal diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer. I am dying. It could be 3-5 years from now (the average survival time for someone with my diagnosis) or it could be 10-15 years from now as treatments get better and better. No matter what, this Ash Wednesday is different for me, it is harder to talk about death and dying, but it is also still so important. Maybe it is even more important.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. If you participant in the rituals of Ash Wednesday, these are words that you will read or hear spoken to you at some point today. These words, in their starkness, remind us that there was a time before your existence and there will be a time after you are gone. You came to life and you will die. This fact is the same for all of us – no matter what. Because of wealth, race and gender you may live a bit longer on average, but each and every one of us will pass away at same point. In our American culture this is about as far as we want to go on this topic. Acknowledge that everyone will die and then run in the other direction as fast as possible, because we may feel sad, or scared, or overwhelmed. But this is the moment we should stay and face the question that dying raises for those of us who are living, “How do you want to live knowing you are going to die?”
Pondering your death is really about pondering how you want to live your life. What kind of world do you want to be a part of leaving behind for future generations? What is the legacy you want to leave for those closest to you? How do you want to be remembered in your community, in your family, by your friends? I can’t answer those questions for you. Only you can do that, but I place these questions before you to ponder and to help guide your living. However, I really need to answer these questions because death is not just somewhere far off for me, it is a dot in the future that will be clearly seen sooner than I expected.
I want to leave a world that is closer to putting an end of racism, and I deeply believe my faith brings me to this work. The legacy I want to leave is as one who didn’t let fear get in my way and someone who was willing to ask for help when needed. No one can make it through life alone. We were made for community. We were made to depend on each other. I hope I was someone who others could depend on and that I had a sense of knowing who was dependable. Remember me as someone who wasn’t perfect, but asked for forgiveness because I believed in its power to restore community. Remember me as someone who shared her story, so that others wouldn’t have to think they were the only one who doubted and was pissed at God, but still found a home in the church and faith. Remember me as one who encouraged others and who helped reveal hope. Remember me as one who wanted to keep showing up longer then I was able to, but also knew that at some point I would have to let go and pass the journey on to those will come after me. Remember me as someone who loved God, and loved neighbor as myself.
Now it is time for you to answer the questions. I need to get on with living until I die. Amen.