missjunebug has a long memory for certain quotations from smart people. One that has stayed with her was written decades ago by John Updike, a writer whose celebrity has faded somewhat, but whose words still resonant for mjb. One of the characters in Witches of Eastwick, a fantastical tale of love, intrigue, and betrayal, had some keen observations about the stuff of life women deal with everyday: “There was so much dirt in life, so many eraser crumbs and stray coffee grounds and dead wasps trapped inside the storm windows, that it seemed all of a person’s time – all of a woman’s time, at any rate – was spent in reallocation, taking things from one place to another, dirt being as her mother said simply matter in the wrong place.”
missjunebug would generally agree with this keen and frustrated observation, but not on this night of all nights. For tonight missjunebug has been to her church to participate in that age old ritual (the best kind of ritual there is) called weightily, The Imposition of the Ashes on Ash Wednesday. To borrow from that online encyclo of the people Wikipedia, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and begins the 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and repentance. As mjb’s insightful Pastor F. suggested, It’s time to do a 180, to recalibrate, and to walk in a new direction, thoughtfully and prayerfully. Easy to say, not so easy to do.
But as missjunebug likes to think, God gives us 40 days to right ourselves and get it right. And those dark ashes imposed upon the waiting forehead in the sign of the cross are a sign of our mourning and repentance to God, a sign of the cross that marks us with a grim reminder of our mortality, a sign that we are working to turn things around for ourselves and get right with God.
Hey, nobody said this was going to be easy. Some people decide to do daily devotionals during Lent focusing on repentance and changing for the better; others decide to give up some coveted thing or indulgence as a sign of commitment to change. Chocolate comes readily to mind for many, it being the ubiquitous shorthand for all things creamy, delicious, craved, and good. Still others turn to good works to get back on the straight and narrow path. Whatever is chosen, the sacrifice is not to be taken lightly. Forty days is a long time (place a Billy Bean/Brad Pitt/Moneyball elongated pronunciation on that phrase to give it its due.) A long time. missjunebug recommends you chose wisely and well.
What has missjunebug chosen to do? That’s between her and her Father “who sees in secret.” Don’t make her out to be like the hypocrites sounding a trumpet before them when they do their good work. mjb plans to keep her 40-day Lenten trial to herself. No doubt she’ll be held accountable. Wish her luck. Believe her when she says what she’s decided to try is harder than giving up TJ’s 73% Belgium Chocolate Non-Pareils. And you know how hard she thinks that would be if you read her recent post on non-pareils!
Why so serious? The words of the imposition make that perfectly clear: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
She’s reminded of one more insightful and tragicomic quotation of John Updike that will complete the grim but joyful hope of life on this earth (yes! a double oxymoron to complete the tale!): “We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one.”
Meditate on the fragility of human life, its perfection and its failings, your perfection and your failings, and you, too, can join in on the age old ritual of Lent and “enjoy” this 40-day journey of prayer, fasting, and repentance.
Amen to that.