Pack Your Things

If you don’t watch the Walking Dead, you should. Because it really and truly is not about the zombies. Its about the people and the relationships and how we hold onto the humanity in ourselves when the whole world goes to hell. On this show they never really get to pack. On this show when its time to go its time to GO. The only time they packed was when they left the prison, and even then, most that stuff was left behind.

On the way home tonight we were listening to Blackbird Song, which is part of the soundtrack for the show. He says, pack your things, leave somehow, blackbird song is over now.

And it made me think about the desert that we are entering. We’re all sort of standing around our tents right now, toeing the dirt, trying to think of anything else we might need. The kids are cranky and the adults are so tired and so scared. Tomorrow the journey begins, 40 days in the wilderness. 40 days without uttering a single alleluia.

I look around at my traveling companions and feel a glimmer of hope, but a deeper longing for the sudden joy of Easter. And I look around and I realize that all this stuff we’ve packed, the excuses to break a fast or partake of something given up, the other things we fill the day with instead of prayer, still refusing to SEE the person we are giving alms to, finding reasons not to serve. All that stuff can’t come with us. We have to leave the packs here, on the ground outside the tents that we can’t take either.

Tonight was my first ever Ash Wednesday service. I looked all over when I was in England last year and missed all but communion at St. Paul’s in London. Tonight my fellow candidates for confirmation and I  were enrolled officially in Lenten Preparation.

First we had to come up to the very front with our sponsors. And then we had to listen to the Senior Warden make promises. And then we listened to our sponsors make promises, and we made promises too. I got a bit of my postulant moment there, on my knees, with one pesky light shining on my head and making me hot. I was on my knees and Cindi had her hand on my shoulder and she held me so tight, and my other friend looked like she was going to shake apart she was trembling so. We received our ashes, and then we were able, for probably the only time ever (though lay people are able to do this), to impose ashes on the rest of the congregation.

It was utterly moving, to be on the other side of the rail. To see people come forward and down into what I had always assumed was the weakest position ever to exist. But come they did, and kneel they did. Some of them looked me in the eye when I said, Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return. As I marked a cross on their foreheads with the ashes that are still stuck under my nail and have stained the pad of my thumb.

Jared stepped back, and gestured to the others to do so also, when my family approached the rail. I looked in Kaia’s large green eyes and told her she was dust. I did the same for Ave and the same for Casey. My brother has said before what a provocative feeling it is to tell a child she is but mortal as you dust her forehead with ash, and he is right.

So you gotta put down the pack, all the things you wanted to carry with you. I know its hard to understand but there isn’t anything you need to bring on this journey, not anything that belongs in a backpack anyway. We’re going to gather up for one more night of shared fires and tents, we set off tomorrow. I don’t know what our destination will be, but one thing I can take with me is the new and sudden understanding that the weakest position a person can take isn’t to kneel down. The weakest position a person can take is none at all.

By choosing to kneel I have chosen a side.

I’ve chosen Narnia and Aslan.

I’ve chosen Mother Theresa.

I’ve chosen Lily Potter’s sacrifice.

I’ve chosen to love over and over and over again no matter what it costs me. I’ve chosen to put down all the crap I’ve packed up, all the excuses for why I can’t do this, why it doesn’t matter anyway, to leave it behind to gather dust in our sun-dappled camp beneath the trees.

I’ve chosen to be gone by daybreak.

I’ve chosen to walk with you through these 40 days.

Put your stuff down, come sit with me a while. Tell me what scares you, why you’re nervous. Tell me what you hope to find.

I love you still, and I’ll see you at dawn.

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