Do the juncos know it’s Ash Wednesday, flitting from willows to crusted snow, seeking the half buried seeds? Their diet is unchanged today, and their winter foraging, their flight and fight for survival, goes on.
And yet, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This I share with all creatures, those who dance in the cerulean heavens and those who seem intent on bringing hell to earth.
I sip my bitter coffee, this small denial, offer it up in fasting and prayer. No sugar. No sweetness on the tongue for forty days. In its absence I remember those who struggle for bread, let alone sugar, who struggle for life in the looming of death, for hope in the heavy drifts of despair.
I am one person, one graced by hope, one surrounded by beauty so myriad I almost feel guilty. I am one who falters on the pilgrim path, all too aware of my own tendencies to sin and selfishness. I am one who wonders how best to spend this life and the inheritance given, how to direct my energies into the howling vacuum of need at my fingertips.
And so I fast. And so I pray. And so I live Lent remembering that all I am is marked by this smudge of a cross, the unlikely mark in which all things must find their definition, in which my own life is defined and made clear, and is made somehow more than the sum of its dust.
The best way I know to reshape this life with all its passions, to order its loves to a fitting end, is through prayer. This is my prayer: form me into a woman who prays, for whom prayer is second gifted nature. For the one who prays seeks the face of God, from whom all blessings flow, from whom love bleeds out to join with human suffering, from whom all creatures live and move and have their being. And in the seeking, perchance to find, perhaps to see – aye, here’s the rub! – and in seeing to be seen. For You are El Roi, the God who sees.
And Your gaze is my undoing, and my repentance, and in my repentance my remaking.
Remake me to be worthy of the shape of the cross. Remake me into a fitting vessel of love. Remake me so all my sweetness is found in the beauty of holiness.
Remake me so that in praying for those nearest and those distant I may be formed into your answer. Give me courage to be your arrows, flung into the heart of my aching prayers.
The juncos dash for the seeds, and there is a merry desperation in their movement. One flits, hovers near the window, flings a glance with its shining black eye to my strange indoor world. I suppose it’s safer in here. But there are seeds to be had in the snow, with a little digging, and the slow but steady increase of the sun’s reach, and the whole free sky.