Mardi Gras to Ash Wednesday – 28 February 2022

Here a man sits alone in a cell. The man is a clown, dressed for fun and performance. Everything about him is intended to attract attention. He epitomises fun and revelry. He stands for Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday), the display and excesses before the next day – Ash Wednesday.

Now he sits in quiet reflection, there is no performance because there is no audience. All he has to contemplate is himself, confined as he is within the cell. Opposite his seated figure is the dark door by which he entered the cell. Above him is a window, that shines a light onto his person. At this moment his head is bowed, looking towards the darkened floor, his arms are crossed in a closed position. There is the possibility though that he might look up into the light, or stand on his seat and be bathed in the glory from above – again with no one at all to see.

This week we move from excess into fasting, from revelry to reflection and penitence. This is the movement we make every year, one that requires us all to do some spiritual work alone.

The picture ‘Ash Wednesday’ (1860) is by Carl Spitzweg, a Bavarian romantic painter.

 

 

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6

Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace