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Ashes

ashes, Lent

I’ve never felt betrayal, but I have known loss and change.

The world in which we live is terribly beautiful: here is where we experience blossoms and sunlight, as well as soil and rain. Here is where I’ve brushed my long hair, spooned custard into the happy mouth of a neighbor’s baby, and pulled petals from daisies … all actions that are lost to me now. I can’t even feed myself anymore.

This terribly beautiful world is where my fine and agile hands are withering into limp petals by progressive disease.

“Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Solidarity

Sometimes, we may think of Jesus moving through His life in strict obedience to God the Father, a series of poses in bas-relief along church walls; a man who does what He does merely as a following of a prewritten script without any deep involvement in the story; a statue of the Son of God who performs a sacred function without really living.

But we’re wrong.

Food, fellowship, and walks through the countryside, even sleep with a pillow tucked under His head: Sacred Scripture depicts Our Lord enjoying very earthly things naturally, fully human, because Jesus was a real flesh and blood man. Jesus Christ was fully alive in the fullness of His humanity — our shared humanity — needing to learn to feed Himself just like any baby, getting dirty, splashing water, laughing, thinking, and choosing.

“The dipping flight of brightly colored birds must have lit the imagination of the little boy, joyfully kicking His baby legs upon Mary’s knee. How many birds did He startle into flight when He first began to run, His own pulse rising with the fluttering of their wings? The sultry scent of summer’s twilight, heavy with blossoms and ripening fruit, stirred within the growing youth the sweet ache of beauty and a deep sense of longing and mourning. How many thick leaves did He pull from bushes to crush within His hand, the sharp pungency clearing His mind to marvel at the tender, green flesh upon His own?” (It’s Good to Be Here, page 27.)

God chose to share in the fullness of humanity. How many butterflies did God see from within His own Creation with His own human eyes, smiling at the power of their delicate beauty while knowing full-well their transient nature?

The Ebb and Flow of Life

My school friends and I developed ways for me to play hopscotch and kickball in my wheelchair, a bunch of laughing eight-year-olds playing on the hot top in the spring breeze. There came other activities, however, to which I could not adjust as we grew older, and play began to change. For example, I couldn’t venture down into the field and the edge of the woods at our new school. Although I certainly would’ve liked to have gone with them, I led my friends to believe that I preferred staying up on the paved playground by myself. As they grew taller and I did not, their conversations were literally over my head and I lost their words beyond my reach.

By the time I reached sixth grade, I had to stop physically attending school because it was exhausting me bodily. I admit, I felt less awkward, less handicapped, when I didn’t have to socialize with my peers and could stay home. But I knew there was much that I was missing … many opportunities for new experiences that I had inexorably lost. Attendance of a friend’s dance party only painfully reinforced the divide, the loss.

I remember one day in my early twenties, sitting in my parents’ yard — still my yard — enjoying the beauty of Spring. I was trying to imitate the sounds of chickadees in the spruces, and then I thought of how childish I was while classmates and friends were moving to other places, starting new jobs, and falling in love with future spouses. I felt terribly little. And left behind. I felt keenly the permanence of my inexperience and dependency as well as the final loss of my childhood, all ot once. Feeling lonely and pitiful, I was yet brimming with love for the bird song and the green of the day, fully alive with love of life … Why did my best friend in childhood — with whom I had so often shared the delights of trees, birds, and sky — why did she move away, move on?

Why do things have to change?

Solidarity

Jesus knew the real, deep feelings of friendship — or else He could not be our Savior, restoring us to true communion with God. God chose to share our earthly delights and joys in the flesh, as well as our sorrows and pain. He experienced my childhood wonders, as well as my dependency, my weakness, and my sense of loss. Christ’s own Passion, God’s willingness to suffer ultimately with me, began with a beautiful sign of human affection: a kiss.

Jesus suffered betrayal by one of His close friends. That means that He had friends.

Before the betrayal, Christ first experienced the goodness and joy of friendship. If Christ hadn’t loved Judas, if Christ hadn’t enjoyed the man’s company, then Christ wouldn’t have been fully betrayed by him. Christ wouldn’t have felt that sting of shocked hurt when Judas was willing to turn their familiar sign of friendly affection into a callous mark for death, asking the traitor with pained sorrow, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”[i]

Jesus, God in the flesh, keenly felt the loss of friendship, the drastic change in His life when everything felt like it was falling apart. Handed over to merciless men, He was abandoned by His friends who left Him behind as He suffered and mourned. He was seized by guards and His arms bound tight, His hands unable to help Himself.

The whole world was set ablazing, joys and delights turned to ashes… the suffering of destruction.

But the immortal rise.

Transformative Love

I wonder if Judas tasted the ash of his betraying lips in succumbing to destruction and, closing in on himself in his own misery, refused to find the infinite glory of God’s grace waiting for him beyond a moment in time. Refusing to seek and receive the transformation of divine mercy, he turned away from eternal love and fell into the pit of despair, the pit that is nothing but ashes.

With ashes, we mark our foreheads with the sign of Christ’s Cross in order to begin Lent with the remembrance — the body, mind, heart, and soul remembrance — that we are nothing without God. The beauty of here and now is the beauty of divine love that gave an entire universe the gift of existence and lovingly called humans up out of the dust of Earth to fully live as images of God, now and forever.

I’m never been one to stay long upon the ash heap of misery like biblical Job did, asking rhetorically, “Is not life on earth a drudgery?” Perhaps this is because I’ve always known that I am loved. Real love sees me through the burning pains to find what is gloriously left within the ashes, to recognize what can be gained through loss.

Has my human ability to recognize divinity been heightened by my disability and the physical losses that I have suffered?

That’s a question that has been put to me in different ways since the publication of It’s Good to Be Here and, I admit, I’ve had difficulty answering it.

I know perfectly well that we humans don’t need to endure sickness, disease, or injury in order to be closer to God, because God is intimately close to every human being, having united His divinity with our humanity for all eternity. Christ’s unites both His sufferings and His delights to ours so that we may never be without Him. But we need to turn to Him in love in order to know this truth and to experience the sacred, transformative intimacy. Do we? Would I have done so if I hadn’t been conceived with a genetic flaw?

Grateful for all of my life, I am grateful for the mysterious ways in which God works. Stilled in body, I know that I have more easily chosen silence and, so, have been stirred in soul to hear God’s universal call to holiness. Every human being is unique because there are different ways to live out this call and different ways to hear it. No vocation is superior to another, but each complements the other in the bond of divine love. Because my vocation is peculiarly different than those of my childhood friends, the road to my vocation was peculiar as well… sometimes lonely and painful, but necessary.

This is my life, and I am grateful for it.

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Although there is loss in life, God does not leave us orphans. Old leaves fall withered from the trees and new landscapes are discovered through the bare branches, beautiful realities that were not visible before. Jesus rose glorified from the grave and we, as images of God, experience little deaths and resurrections every day.

Life is renewed by the power of love.

My childhood, lifelong friend was rediscovered in adulthood after each of our teenaged transitions seemed to take us apart from one another, and we were united again in our shared love of life’s beauty and the good fruit of childhood. Discovering my own vocation of reflection and communication, former classmates found my writing through cyberspace and perhaps even benefitted from our new relationship when coming through illness or mourning, as new bonds of sympathy were formed. New friendships, too, were discovered through my dependency and need for home health aides, as I met wonderful people that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

We are called up from ashes to newness of life:

© 2020 Christina Chase


[i] Luke 22:48

Christina Chase View All

Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.

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