I have been blessed (sometimes cursed) with a mind that thinks hard about words. Sometimes this makes my brain hurt. English is lovely, but also confusing and imperfect. Still, sometimes it surprises me with insight and with deeper meaning.
I've been thinking about Ash Wednesday all week, and there is a word that is returning to me again and again: imposition. It's only been recently that I have spent my Ash Wednesdays immersed in liturgy, and now, with my Book of Common Prayer open to the order of service for Ash Wednesday, I see these words in tiny italics: the ashes are imposed with the following words.
For some of you, it will be expected and normal to leave your home early this morning or sometime this evening and have ashes spread across your forehead in the shape of a cross. For others, this is just another Wednesday. Or, perhaps, the day after Mardi Gras.
Ash Wednesday is an imposition. Each year, as we come to it, I am forced to confront the fact that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. This is important for me, but it is not easy or simple, and frankly, I'm not always in the mood, even on Ash Wednesday.
Where in my life have the easy and blissful things been the most meaningful? That sort of thing doesn't even happen on TV. The really good stuff is thrust upon me and wrapped in work and pain and longing and pondering and challenge. If I had a choice about what happens to me, I would not choose those things. I would choose the sweet whispered words, affirmation of who I already am, the sunsets and the chocolate and the vacations. The things I don't choose have been the things to make me who I am. I am becoming who God wants me to be (sometimes painfully slowly) because He has imposed it upon me.
Tonight, I will join with the church and will stand in line to have an uncomfortable truth imposed upon me, visible for all to see: I am dust and to dust I shall return.
I hope that this season of Lent will draw you in and that you will examine the things that are imposed upon you, along with me.