Of Snow, Ash & Gratitude


I tried my hand at a poem on this wintry Ash Wednesday...  

Everything is frozen. 
Ice is everywhere.  
It covers the trees that were just beginning to show signs of spring.  
It covers the ground, refusing to yield, diminishing only enough to reveal the frozenness underneath, hard and brittle to the touch.  
The places where I've walked around my house have become frozen footprints. 
The cold is all around us now.  It makes me feel tired inside.  
I think what I am feeling is grief.  

When I was a young English major a lifetime ago, I learned that wintry scenes in poetry were often allusions to mortality.  The poets who do this speak of white nothingness quietly covering the ground, the trees, the grass, pathways, roads... freezing time, freezing everything.  

Think of Robert Frost's famous poem about a moment of decision on a snow-covered path in the woods as the poet confronts the brevity of life and the difficulty of knowing what the future holds.  

So naturally, on this Ash Wednesday, with the world around me covered in snow, frozen and quiet... I'm thinking of all that has been lost over this past year, and even farther back to losses and loved ones who left too soon.  

I think it's good and proper to sit with our grief today on this day, especially.  This is the day when as Christians we remind ourselves that we are "dust, and to dust, we will return. "  

And so on Ash Wednesday, we let the grief in and embrace the stark realization that we are frail and finite and only here on this earth for "a breath" as the Psalmist once wrote.  

Our Jewish siblings call it "sitting shiva"---the act of mourning with those who mourn---weeping with those who weep.  

But in the center of our realization, our sitting shiva, is something else.  In the center of our grief is a sense of gratitude that we very seldom acknowledge, but it is there nonetheless.  And if we are brave, we can feel that, too.  

Because if not for the joy of life... if not for the gift of our loved one... if not for the beauty of a loving relationship... if not for the magic of dreams...  we would not feel the pain of their loss.  

And so... gratitude and grief... this is our Ash Wednesday experience. 

Mary Oliver wrote a better poem than the one I led with, and it speaks to this so wonderfully and heartbreakingly:   

Will I  always, from now on, be this cold?
“No, it will diminish.  But always 
It will be with you.”
What’s the reason for it?
“Wasn’t your friendship always as beautiful 
As a flame?”

So on this Ash Wednesday, we will begin our Lenten journey, chasing after Jesus into the wilderness, into the white, into a winter of mourning and loss---of gratitude and grace.  

We will remember that life is brief and beautiful, and we are frail and small in the great grand Divine scheme of things... but we are also gifted with glorious purpose, we shine as bright as a flame in the wind.  

And we are loved beyond love---love that is stronger than death.  

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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