Eggs and Ashes by Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill
O G-d, where did I go wrong?
How can I find my way back?
I am weighed down by this feeling
That I have failed-you-, other people- myself.
My life is a mess.
You know my weakness.
You know much better than me:
I can’t hide it from you.
How can I bear to face it too?
Guilty as charged—
However much I argue my case.
It’s your laws I have broken;
It’s your way I have lost;
It’s your word I have chosen not to hear
Over and over again.
O G-d, where did I go wrong?
How can I find my way back?
“Here,” I said, opening the cabinet where we kept tea bags, sugar packets, and miscellaneous paper goods, and handed Mark the ashes. We’d prepared them from those great triumphal palm fronds used in St. Gregory’s procession on Palm Sunday, at the beginning of last year’s Holy Week, when we hailed Jesus as king then howled for his execution. Mark had organized a group of machete-wielding friends to cut palm branches from a parishioner’s yard, strapped them to the top of his station wagon with bungee chords and driven them through a car wash to rinse them off before hoisting them up in the church. They were beautiful: huge prehistoric branches that swayed from the high rafters and doorways of St. Gregory’s. We left a couple up through Easter, then dragged them out into a corner of the backyard, where they were dumped into an unsightly pile with some tree trimmings and brush until the summer, when Mark and I got around to hacking the branches up into little pieces, composting most of them, and finally burning a handful. Palms are extraordinarily hard to set on fire, and it took several tries, but at last we got about half a cup of ashes, which we pushed through a sieve into two small ceramic bowls and then stuck in a corner of the kitchen to save for Ash Wednesday. Ashes are what a fire cannot burn. What’s left over after a fire, or from a life.
1 Samuel 16
16 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the LORD said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.”[a] 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”
11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ashes and Oil
37 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.”