ash wednesday

Easter is coming.

For me, there is so much warmth and joy in that statement, so many moments that envelope it and hold it up. The moment I asked the love of my life to marry me and she said yes.

Early mornings on Alki, watching the sun rise.

Afternoons in my yard planting and weeding.

Easter is about life and resurrection, but in order to have a resurrection, there must first be a death.

And just as Easter reminds us of life, Lent reminds us of death, and we are entering into the season of Lent today, Ash Wednesday.

I used to be able to move through Lent relatively unscathed without thinking all that much about death. Perhaps because the only death I ever witnessed was that of my 94 year old grandfather. It was terrible and I wept, but he had lived in the land of the old and dying, and I lived in the land of the young. Death was a thing that happened there and not here.

But then my friends started to die and I suddenly found myself living in that new country I thought I’d never be in - the one in which I too am going to one day die.

I wasn’t packed or equipped for this new country and still don’t feel comfortable in it.

So here we are, in the country of death and the dying, and we are still 6 weeks away from Easter. What are we going to do?

I have been thinking about God in the moments before Creation - the moment poetically described in Genesis as being formless and empty, darkness hovering over the surface of the deep as a great black shadow.

And in the darkness, embodying the darkness, God.

This is not a picture of God fighting the darkness or overcoming it.

It is God as the darkness, resting.

This is not oppressive darkness or a type of nothingness that brings terror.

Rather, it is a restful darkness, like a womb that is nourishing and preparing new life.

I had never considered thinking of my own darkness in this way - that perhaps were I to enter and inhabit it, I might find God’s spirit hovering in the stillness of a womb.

Instead of feeling the terror of nothingness, I might encounter the quiet intimacy of divine love.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote to a young anxious person, still living in that first bright country, this loving response:

Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches...perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown...Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you really do not know what these states are working upon you?

So you must not be frightened...if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.

I hope Rilke would not mind me thinking of God when he says “life”.

This is the God who is present in every little death we encounter;

when we must let go of a desire or attachment,

when we must let go of someone we love,

and yes, even when we must let go of our own physical lives as we have always known them.

After all, the God of stillness and darkness is also the God of resurrection and life,

who inspired these words from another old worn poet who had already faced his own death multiple times:

Death has been swallowed up in victory

Where O death is your victory?

Where is your sting?