Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Back in my high school days, when I sang with my school choir music group for the school's Masses and prayer services, one of my favourite hymns was one called "Ashes."

We rise again from ashes, from the good we've failed to do,
We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew.
If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true?
An offering of ashes, an offering to you.

We offer you our failures, we offer you attempts,
The gifts not freely given, the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction, give our visions wider view;
An offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Then rise again from ashes, let healing come to pain,
Though spring has turned to winter, and sunshine turned to rain.
The rain we'll use for growing and create the world anew,
From an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Thanks be to the Father, who made us like Himself,
Thanks be to the Son, who saved us by His death;
Thanks be to the Spirit who creates the world anew,
From an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

An offering of ashes, an offering to you.

I've been thinking a lot about this one lately, and not just because today is Ash Wednesday.  There was a period in my life, starting around the time I graduated from teacher's college, when practically everything that was important to me went wrong, and the result was depression—which went un-treated and even ignored, because my mother had also developed depression as a result of conditions at her workplace that had become downright abusive, and she needed my support to get through it.  So my own life was put on hold, which I still don't regret, though I can't help wondering sometimes if I've screwed myself over, and I've been doing my best to re-build my life in the years that have followed, both personally and professionally.  It hasn't been easy, and I sometimes wonder if I'll be able to make things work in such a way that I have much quality of life (two of my biggest fears are failure and homelessness), but I'm still going to try.

Someone who's particularly close to me has told me that he considers people who have had to rebuild their lives more often than the average person to be something of a different species: Homo sapiens invictus, rather than—as I say, especially when I'm feeling a bit cynical about the horrors we humans have caused to each other and our planet—Homo (questionably) sapiens.  Unconquered, not just wise.  It's a nice thought: the idea that there's an evolutionary response of some sort, though not necessarily a genetic one, that's being forced by all this adversity and the stubbornness that leads to the desire to carry on, and not to allow defeat to be a permanent state.  And it even ties in to the mythic pattern of a death and rebirth, whether they're portrayed in the stories as being literal (the Phoenix, Jesus' resurrection from the dead, Gwion Bach being devoured whole by Cerridwen after making the somewhat unwise choice to shape-shift into the form of a grain of corn, and later being reborn as Taliesin) or figurative (Saul becoming Paul on the road to Damascus, Siddartha Gautama becoming the Buddha after an extended period of meditation).

As it says in the song above, we re-create ourselves from the ashes of what we were.  Perhaps that's why "Ashes" has been on my mind so often lately; I feel like I'm in another time of transition, and I'm re-evaluating a lot of things lately.  And, oddly enough, I'm OK with that.

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