Oswald’s Experience


Oswald Norton

Ash Wednesday Reflections

I wanted to share with you an experience I had during an Ash Wednesday service at our church last week.  I’m sharing it with my Subud community because I know that a part of the reason I was able to have this experience has to do with what’s been opened in me through this spiritual training, this latihan.

I’ve been to a number of Ash Wednesday services, particularly as a child growing up in a Catholic family. In them I’ve heard the same phrase, “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.” At my present church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Bellevue, we had an Ash Wednesday service last Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent.

For reasons I’m still trying to understand, during this service, I came to understand to my core, that the body I inhabit now is nothing more than a vessel that my being – call it spirit, or just the image of the person that I represent – inhabits for the moment.

I guess, I, for the first time since observing this ritual, felt both a gratitude for and the temporal limits of this body, this mind, the energies that I’ve employed all these years to carry out the different tasks involved in my life. It was as if I finally was able to acknowledge, the gift of the possibilities, that inhabiting this body, in this place, with those I’ve shared this space with for the first time. Call it an awakening to what I’ve been given.

It came about through both the words and the actions of our minister the Reverend Lisa Horst Clark. As she spoke, she had before her, soil, in a simple baking pan.  The soil was in a small mound, as if unused, waiting. As she spoke, she shaped the mound first into the shape of a mountain, speaking of how we humans have built columns to try and reach to the sky to the world of the spirit. Something was shifting within me. I found that I could barely look at her and the work of her hands as she spoke, so I looked away.

Next she spoke of how, over the millennia the shape that was to become our human body, was created.  Specs of earth, and elements from the universe which have landed on our planet, evolved and evolved, until the human shape was formed. This body gradually evolved into the humans we are now with all of our thinking and feeling. Our thinking and feeling had evolved and created the environments in which we now live throughout this world.  Any yet, when we – those of us within the room of the service and those not there – completed our time in the bodies we now inhabit, and we died, these bodies will return to the basic elements that began the journey at the very beginning.

While she spoke, she shaped a body in the pan. Then, lifting up that body shape, let it fall back into the mound that was there in the beginning.

In me there came a new opening to the understanding of the temporary time I have to use this body. The time available to me is only the time I’ve been given. I have no way of understanding, or controlling, or lengthening through my own will the time available. What I can control is what I do during this time; this time I’ve been given.

So, during Lent, during this time of fasting and trying to grasp what is going on in my life that I could change, or react to in a different way, I’m going to remember that this is a temporary time. And, this body, this mind, these feelings I have are available to me temporarily.

To what end? That is what I’m going to try and understand and carry out.  Surely to create goodness and acts of kindness and love. Surely that. That is my hope.  That is my desire. So I’m going to reflect on that and see what comes of this reflection.