Ash Wednesday

“Teach us to care and not to care
  Teach us to sit still”
                                 – T. S. Eliot, from “Ash Wednesday

On this day, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, this haunting poem reverberates in my mind.

It is so painfully easy for me to forget about what is important, to lose track of my priorities and what I believe is important … to become absorbed in myself and forget about all I owe to God and neighbor.

Yet it is so easy, it seems, for me to dwell on things that are not important, things I know I shouldn’t value, and don’t want to value.  I’m troubled by how easily I submit to the undertow of materialism, how easily I think about money … greedily, resentfully, ungratefully.

And it is easy, always so awfully easy, to get busy, and lost in the busyness.  To say to myself, “tomorrow I’ll straighten everything out; tomorrow I’ll pray and think about God; tomorrow I’ll ….”  Too easy.

As these lines of this poem assert themselves, I’m not sure I fully understand their meaning (T. S. Eliot’s poetry is like that).  But it seems like they’re saying something like this: “God, help me care about what you care about, and not care about what you don’t care about, and remember that I am supposed to wait on you.”

For those who observe it, Lent is supposed to bring a renewed focus on God and what He has done, and what He wants from and for us.  To me, at least, it seems like there’s an emphasis on priorities.  What is important?  In addition to the events remembered during Holy Week, and their consequences, many have answered, “the least of these.”  The things and people that are so much more significant than the little ups and downs of my daily life.

Yet I look at AIDS, at poverty and illness, sorrow and injustice, and am overwhlemed.  I have often felt — and I do not think I am alone in this — like the only responses to the realities of the world are frenzy or apathy, exhaustion or hopelessness.  To be burned out by doing,  or to do nothing.

I always feel the urge to be busy, even when I hate being busy, and for a good cause it seems justified.  I berate myself for being busy with frivilous things, and tell myself I should be busy with “good” things.  But maybe that isn’t the point, or nto all of it.  Pacing around, or even running breathlessly, can be easier than sitting still.  But the somber season of Lent reminds us of our own helplessness … and the beauty of Easter reveals that our helplessness is not the deciding factor, that it is overshadowed by God’s power.  Our hope comes from faith, from trusting God, from waiting for Him.

How much time and effort I spend, distracting myself from God!  Sometimes distracting myself from Him through my own attempts to do what I think He wants.

To sit still … to listen and try to learn … to let God work and sway my priorities in His time … to wait for God and hope in Him … maybe these form part of social justice (part of the connection between faith and AIDS) that I often overlook.

I want to focus on the important things, to move my eyes away from the unworthy things, to wait, and hope.  Please, God,

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still



~ by h.e.g. on February 25, 2009.

One Response to “Ash Wednesday”

  1. Eliot definitely knew his faith.


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