Ash Wednesday: A Reflection on The Imposition
March 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
“Really? Are you sure, I’d hate to impose,” I reply.
“Oh, no, seriously,” they assure me. “It wouldn’t be an imposition at all. I’d be glad to pick up your dry cleaning / help with your PowerPoint / take a volunteering shift for you / feed your cat . . . ”
Conversations like these are looping through my head as I consider Ash Wednesday. I keep returning to the “imposition.”
Here’s what The Book of Common prayer says is happening in thousands
of churches today —
The ashes are imposed with the following words:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
And Ash Wednesday is an imposition, right? Our tradition tells us — imposes on us — to consider our own birth and death today. Remember you are made of microscopic particles, and to microscopic particles you shall return. Today’s another typical New York City day — a quick coffee stop, an email from a friend, a subway delay due to a sick passenger, tabloid headlines about an actor in a sitcom I’ve never seen — with one extra thing added to the top of the to-do list. We’re compelled to think about our own creation and our own death. That’s a pretty big side job, isn’t it? Emily Dickinson’s dark carriage comes to mind: “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me –”
Imposition turns out to be a rich word with many meanings. Impositions can be uncalled for burdens, things we really do just to be polite. We call big presences, reaching magnificence beyond our understanding, “imposing” too. I’m thinking: redwood trees, Empire State Building, Queen Elizabeth II. I just learned that in graphic design imposition means “setting up pages in their correct order.”
Dear God, Lent begins today. Stand with us as ashes are imposed on our foreheads in the shape of your Cross. Be patient with us while we try to think about our birth and death and remember the vastness of your creation. Help us to see this Lent as a opportunity for setting our lives in order. We want to reach beyond a polite relationship with You to something that’s really magnificent. Amen.
— Chris Phillips