It's a wacky day. Romance is in the air, for it is indeed Valentines Day. But there is an air of Romanticism as well, for we remember today is normally a feast day in the greater church honoring the martyred saints bearing the name. And, if that weren't enough, I now bear the traditional scent of penance, having incinerated some of last year's palms used on Palm Sunday. It is Ash Wednesday, which means we'll all carry the mark of these very ashes of which I reek, along with a hard saying, out into the world when we leave here tonight.
We waltz in a minor tune and sing our three-quarter-time, silencing lyric: "From dust you were made and to dust you return." It is a dance of solidarity, not all that different from the commitment symbolized in a newly-wed couple's first dance. We are in sync with our own committal, a harmonic round of "We commend to you our spirits and commit our bodies to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." And that is suffering. Yet there is the upside-down, that place Romanticized, as Tennyson mused in grief:
So bring him; we have idle dreams:
This look of quiet flatters thus
Our home-bred fancies. O to us,
The fools of habit, sweeter seems
To rest beneath the clover sod,
That takes the sunshine and the rains,
Or where the kneeling hamlet strains
The chalice of the grapes of God;
Than if with thee the roaring wells
Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine;
And hands so often clasp'd in mine,
Should toss with tangle and the shells.
Does it matter where one finally lies, be it sea-bottom or sod? Here we begin our syncopated, harmonic round alongside the other--yes, even from the unknown grave: "In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ..."
The church has always exhorted us with the idea that life (had abundantly) isn't about suffering OR joy. It is, rather, joy AND suffering--joy amid suffering. It is a minor tune, but we waltz. We sing on the downbeat those ashy lyrics. Yet our upbeat song is "sure and certain hope."
Happy Valentines Day on this Ash Wednesday.