When I was getting ready this morning to receive my ashes, I realized the idea of 40 Days With My Mother came to me three Lents ago, not two. I remember the day clearly. My mom had a doctor's appointment on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday. I had planned to drive to South Bend for the day, allowing enough time to spend with her at home and share a meal while fitting in the appointment. While considering the time change, the appointment time, and the ash distribution and mass times in both our cities, there was no way I was going to get her or myself to church.
So I got Ashes to Go—the most memorable stamp of ashes I have ever received. At the time, a group of pastors from the various Christian churches in my village collaborated to offer these Ashes To Go at the local train station and coffee shop during the early morning rush hour. Leaving before the sun rose that morning, I stopped in on my way out of town. Amid coffee orders with specific ingredients and temperatures, background music, and train whistles pursing through the windows, the movement around me slowed and came to a halt as my eyes caught the gaze looking into mine.
As Ash marked my forehead, I heard the words like never before.
Marie, you are dust, and to dust, you shall return. YOU are a Beloved daughter of God.
Knowing I was driving to South Bend, the pastor reverently gave me ashes with the blessing to take forward and minister them to my mom and her caregiver.
As Ash marked her forehead, I said the words I never spoke to her before.
Mom, you are dust, and to dust, you shall return. YOU are a Beloved daughter of God.
And then to her caregiver,
MA, you are dust, and to dust, you shall return. YOU are a Beloved daughter of God.
The three of us sat at my mom's kitchen table in the intimacy of the moment—a beautiful memory that arises in me each Ash Wednesday. A ritual that I am thankful we could partake in despite the circumstances.
As words promise, my mom has returned to dust. The silence of the void bothers my ears. I heard it loud and clear this morning. So I decided to take a walk to the corner coffee shop. Flying snowflakes kissed my cheeks as fresh snow paved my way for these sacred steps on this day that commences Lent. My anticipation has never been greater or nostalgic. The same pastor who has blessed me every year since the day I traveled to my mom blessed me with ashes again this morning. Wow. If I could combine three years ago with today and stuff it into a sphere. It would be a fantastic snow globe with the Real Presence of Unconditional Love.
Bless those who show up in various places to offer ashes for the traveler and commuter. Bless those who are homebound, the elderly, and the sick who find it challenging to receive ashes. You are ever so creative in Your ways and how You make this meaningful ritual available to all people.