Ash Wednesday and International Women's Day 2014
It is an interesting juxtaposition. Ash Wednesday, March 5 this year, began the period of Lent in the Christian calendar, a time of fasting and reflection, which precedes Easter. It is not a major religious holiday but it is customary to observe Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes wiped on one’s forehead or hand as a sign of our finitude.
It is an interesting juxtaposition.
Ash Wednesday, March 5 this year, began the period of Lent in the Christian calendar, a time of fasting and reflection, which precedes Easter. It is not a major religious holiday but it is customary to observe Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes wiped on one’s forehead or hand as a sign of our finitude. Author Sara Miles observes:
Ashes are a sign of our common mortality. It’s not a sign of initiation into the church. Ashes say, “You’re born and you’re going to die,” and that’s powerful for people. The act of giving ashes is an incredibly intimate moment. You’re touching the skin of somebody who is going to die with your skin, which is going to die, too. It’s very deep. And you’re also telling the truth. You’re saying that you actually can’t buy your way to living forever.
This reminder brings us back to an awareness of the preciousness of this one life we have.
March 8 is International Women’s Day when we pause to lift up the efforts of women to change the ways of the world that still see so many of us as second class and as targets for harassment and abuse. It is a good day to celebrate the remarkable changes we have seen in our lifetimes because women have refused to accept the way things are as the way they have to be.
I am also celebrating the anniversary of my ordination which always gives me pause to consider this journey I began in 1976, responding to a call to do whatever I could to address violence in the lives of women and children. It has been a path of great frustration and great joy.
As I consider this juxtaposition, I am matching the finitude of human existence with the limits to human endeavors. We can only do what we can do in the time we are given. But we can do much with the blessings we are given and we can be sure that the next generation is ready to pick up the task and move it forward.
I know that in my lifetime I will never see an end to the violence and abuse that women suffer in this world. But I do see women and men of good will who now stand together to say, “No More.” No longer does injustice overwhelm us. No longer does the great silence stifle the truthtelling that must be done. Resistance is strong and enduring; healing is possible.
So we live in the paradox of Augustine: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
And celebrate the small victories with a grateful heart, remembering that even in our finitude and limitations, we are not alone.