Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Flowers from Ashes

I light candles to soothe my mind and relax in the warmth and beauty.

One particular night I lit candles on our dresser and was prepared to curl up under the covers when I noticed the shadows the light created.

Lacking a traditional jewelry box (on purpose; I find them cumbersome) I hang my necklaces on a coffee mug stand I found at a thrift store. The candle light created a stark shadow between the stand and the wall that appeared to be Christ’s head, crowned with thorns, hanging down from the cross as He gave up His life.

I told this to my husband who turned and saw it, remarking, “Oh yeah, it does,” and then he went about his business.

I kept the other thought to myself.

It’s scaring me.
Perhaps it’s because horror films are inundated with Christian imagery that is then interpreted as creepy, such as Carrie or the Constantine series.

But I noticed on Ash Wednesday, as I did the previous year, that I felt odd with that “smudge of ashes” on my forehead (to borrow my friend's Marissa’s phrasing). Conspicuous.

Maybe these ashes don’t belong here.
I have two rosaries with crucifixes. At the suggestion of many books on contemplative prayer, I’ve tried to meditate on them.* But I’ve never been moved to tears or felt God’s love. Time eked by in an agonizingly slow fashion and then I moved on to reading the Book of Common Prayer or an ancient church homily or saying my petitions to God. It made me feel uncomfortable.

But that shadow crucifix terrified me. He came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t control it. People with ashes on their heads appeared out of nowhere, their crosses ministering to me, showing me the suffering that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

Because there, in that image, is the answer to the ancient question. When I ask, “Why me?” Christ shows His wounds. And then my defenses are gone. I must either accept His answer or cling to my excuses.
And more often than not, I cling to the excuses.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux compared the tree of the cross to the Tree of Life, and the treasures to be found in Christ’s suffering and resurrection to flowers and fruits of that tree.
With eager hands I have plucked flowers from His Tree of Life. They are more gorgeous than any I have ever beheld. When they take in the light of the Son and the Water of Baptism that remain in them, so that they illuminate with holy light and cleanse and refresh with an eternal spring. When I bury my nose in them I become drunk with love like Solomon’s bride because the fragrance is so intoxicatingly sweet.

I take my horde, clinging them to my chest, and then horror upon horrors, I lay my treasure down, and stomp on them.

I, who adore flowers, destroy the most unique and beautiful for the short-lived pleasure of stomping upon them to release my tension, my anger, my bitterness, or my hatred.
Maybe their presence reminds me of my unworthiness of that beauty and I take it out on them.

I do not love the gifts that You secured for me through Your Passion. I do not care that I have harmed them.

I try to forget, and I put You and Your flower-laden tree out of my mind. Until You appear again without my consent. And I am forced to reckon with You.

Unlike Solomon’s bride, I am not sick with love, but with death. Put Your wreath in my hair and Your bouquet in my hands, and make me walk the aisle to You. Remove the veil and take me in Your arms so that I may see the wounds, and not turn away again.
*Note on meditation on icons, statues, images, etc: I am aware that none of these images are Christ. But they are reminders of Christ’s work and life, and in the same way one meditates on words about Christ without confusing the ink and paper with Yeshua, one can meditate on representations of Christ.

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