A few years ago I heard a wonderful talk by Sister Teresa Maya which she had delivered to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at their annual meeting. Sister Teresa drew an analogy between the ashes of volcanic eruptions, in this case that of St. Helen’s volcano in Washington State, and the reality of new growth one can observe from the ashes and the hardened lava through which the growth struggled to appear.
It is an apt metaphor for Lenten ashes. Ashes are the detritus of what has been consumed by fire. The ash is what remains in particle form of what had been. The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday are the remains of the palms that were blest for last Palm Sunday. The particles of those palms are rubbed prayerfully on to our foreheads reminding us that we have some thinking to do about our spiritual lives these next 40 days. We need new growth.
What is unique and beautiful about the volcanic ashes of St. Helen’s is that after years of being ignored because following the explosion it had lost the brilliance of grassland flowers and the sweeping blue of snow on jagged peaks, the volcano became attractive again. Not only did new flowers start to grow but species appeared never before seen or recorded in plant biology. The ashes had seemingly given birth to something new! (You can read of this marvelous resurrection of new life in the Smithsonian magazine, May, 2005.)
Is there a deep-seated anger in your heart over something or someone? Has it been festering and gathering strength over years? It will explode some day when you least expect so why not handle it now? Ask forgiveness, show kindness, burn out the dislike or the hate or the distrust. Turn it into ashes. A new and stronger flower will take over in your heart.
Is something pressing on your mind and soul eroding a peace you desperately seek, a wholeness that can come only with absolution from someone else? Maybe it is something you had done long ago and need to rectify. Gently sweep the ashes, speak to someone. Go to confession. Talk to a friend. You will not be judged; you will be freed. A new and brilliant flower will grow in place of the hardened lava that has trapped your soul.
I pray this Lent for all you, my followers, known and anonymous. There is great power in prayer and we must believe it. Please make a decision to sweep the ashes and watch the flower bloom.
On a personal note, I ask prayers for our South Korean Anonymous Angels. You may know that South Korea has the largest per capita number of people afflicted with the coronavirus outside of China. This blog has 23 South Korean followers. May our prayers attend them and their loved ones and all of South Korea.