Ashes to ashes

February 25, 2009 at 12:59 pm (Uncategorized)

Ash Wednesday


A couple of years ago, I was downtown at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Ash Wednesday.  As I watched the congregation filing down the aisle to receive their ashes, I spotted a young mom holding a baby.  She was a cute little girl, maybe fifteen months or so?  As I knelt at my seat, I watched first the mother receive her ashes…and then the baby was marked with a tiny, ashy cross on her forehead.  I burst into tears as I imagined the priest saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” to this perfect little new life.

Granted, I was pregnant at the time, so I cried at AT&T commercials, but it really, really moved me to see that baby marked with ashes.  As I’ve said to my husband Sam before, you think it’s hard contemplating your own mortality…thinking about your children’s?  Forget it.  It’s like the worst thing in the world times the power of infinity plus a gazillion.  It’s just horrendously difficult.

And yet…I like Ash Wednesday.  I’m not alone in that, I don’t think.  Contrary to popular opinion, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, so you know, you’re off the hook…you don’t HAVE to go…but church is always packed on Ash Wednesday.  Packed!  And as I go through my day today, I know I’ll spot people with ashes on their foreheads everywhere I go:  at preschool, at the grocery store, at choir rehearsal.

My Jewish husband is ever so slightly uncomfortable with Ash Wednesday.  I think it seems primitive to him, or superstitious, and maybe a little exclusive:  “I’m a Christian and you’re not, nanny-nanny-boo-boo!”  That’s not how I see it.  I see those other foreheads marked with ashes and I think, “we’re in this together.  Me, that old lady who growled at me in Sendiks, that pierced and tattooed teenager, that little baby who could grow up to be President someday…we are all voyagers together through this perfect and horrible and terrifying and miraculous world.  We’ve been given a gift and a responsibility, and we can help each other to realize both.”



  1. Mike Miller said,

    Last Sunday, I went to Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, Arizona and really enjoyed it. They also have perpetual Eucharistic adoration–a rather old-school practice–in the chapel, where I stopped one hot afternoon. As a Lutheran, I’m frustrated by the extent to which Rome, for all her missteps, has spirituality *down*.

    • batsinthebelfry said,

      yeah, we’re good with old-school, definitely. I’m not sure I knew you were Lutheran, Mike. How’d you end up at Dominican lo these many years ago?

  2. Mike Miller said,

    My parents live two blocks from Dominican, so we three kids went there largely out of convenience 🙂 Also, my parents were of the opinion that my sister (the oldest) had fallen in with the wrong crowd, so they more or less made her go to DHS. The rest of us just kind of followed suit. Back in the day, I circulated among several different churches, and now am thinking of revisiting that habit. I’ve often felt that one denomination just isn’t enough for me!

  3. Jenna said,

    Emma! Your words just completely infiltrate my insides! I can’t stop reading these posts now so you will have to keep up with fresh ideas for me to eat up!! I have never much cared for Catholicism or any religion as a matter of fact….but you write about your faith so beautifully it awakens in me something I haven’t felt in a while….hope, perhaps??? I cannot tell you how much I miss you!!! Thank you for these amazing words. They go a long way for me today 🙂

    • Jeanette Saari Norlock said,

      for Jenna and Emma
      I stumbeled upon your blog Emma, and have been reading many of your posts, hopping back and forth. As I did, I kept thinking to myself, how do I express how I feel reading it, and in seeing your comment Jenna, I found the words. I feel everything you said, and take comfort in reading about your faith Emma, as I continue to try to find my own.

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