Universalizing Ash Wednesday

We’re packing my three six foot tall bookcases to make way for the accessible first floor bathroom that March will bring. Two kinds of open boxes sit ready: one for the storage room, and one for Crow, our mostly-used downtown bookstore. Lynne’s a jump start character, so weeks ago she bought boxes and pulled everything off the shelves willy nilly.  At first it enraged me but soon proved to have been the gift of ripping off the band-aid.

As I packed and resorted, calm settled in.  As I handled each one, I asked the fundamental question we Christians face on Palm Sunday: Does this really have superior worth (royalty) or did I fall for false gold, borrowed feathers? Was it true light, or the flash of my own face reflected in a mirror?

Worshipers on Palm Sunday bring home their palms for bookmarks, an art project, to decorate a beloved picture. Clergy secret a few to burn for next year’s Ash Wednesday. Wherever we put them, all year they remind us of the human desire to bask in borrowed glory, to rise at the touch of a magic hand.

 That’s what some of these books represent to me: fleeting prayers for the strength or skill to help myself, an afternoon of putting off work by pretending to enrich my mind. Some of them were good choices, made me what I am, but no longer participate in my life. I keep them as reminders of triumphs at earlier milestones, obscuring the fact that my journey is stuck against newer obstacles.

These are the palms we burn on Ash Wednesday: whatever we collect in pursuit of the universal desire to fool ourselves with borrowed glory, unexpected saviors, easy access miracles to keep on ourselves.  And the obverse, the relics of solid successes that time has washed away.

Lenten Poem


My room is cluttered, unrefined;
files, unfiled, are piled askew.
It’s impossible to find
the hidden keyboard that you knew
was somewhere underneath.
Not too soon, Ash Wednesday!
I’m energized to chuck the stuff, bequeath
it to life’s junk yard. The day
is longer, light displays my flaws!
Up! Up! You loathsome slob
uphold the cause!
God calls: rise to the job!
But age has crept away with all the joys that please
There’s little left for Lent except the memories.

Poems from the Eighth Decade
Copyright © Harold Macdonald 2004
used with permission


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