Stirring Ancient Fires for Ash Wednesday

IMG_4848Get your Ash On!

Lurking behind Ash Wednesday’s reputation of self-reflection and penance is a celebration of life. And fire. Yup, burning stuff. Palm branches in particular. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and kicks off the 40 days leading up to Easter. Ashes are smudged on our foreheads and we’re reminded that we’re going to die (like we need a reminder!).

But be careful about Ash Wednesday. Taken superficially, the gloomy “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” language can become a misguided downer of spiritual confessions of the “whoa is me” and “I’m such a worm” variety — used from time immemorial to convince earnest Christians of the need to spend 40 days in denial and self-loathing to prepare for Easter. But there’s another take on Ash Wednesday — one that goes back to its ancient roots in the early church.

At The Fountains, we celebrate as the ancient Christians may have done, outside around a bonfire. As participants take the dried palm branches used to celebrate Palm Sunday the previous year and place them on the fire to be consumed, they’re reminded how fleeting praise and glory is — and how quickly life can turn to ashes.

Dramatic and visceral, we’re reminded of the ultimate reality we struggle against, our mortality. We are reminded, both by the words we say and the burned palms imposed on our foreheads, that we will die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There’s no escape — so get crackin’! Every moment is precious before the looming fact that we only have so much time as short-lived expressions of the spirit tasked to love, serve, and live fully, before returning to dust.

Join us for this unique ritual that not only takes our mortal existence seriously but in a surprisingly hopeful way, celebrates the extraordinary and fleeting gift of being alive.

Meet in the “olive grove” between the Church House and the Labyrinth at 7pm on February 10th at The Fountains. The weather forecast promises us a beautiful evening. While there won’t be a lot of reading, you might want to bring a flashlight to see lyrics and prayer responses. Just look for the bonfire!