Here we are, a few hours before Yom Kippur sunrise. I have atonement on the brain. For a more theological meditation, see this post on my theology blog. For an even more powerful meditation, see this post written by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, who in the hours before Yom Kippur, helped a family prepare the body of a family member for burial.
She reminds us of what this high holy day should be about: "On Yom Kippur we try as hard as we can to make teshuvah, to correct our course and shift our alignment so that our actions, our emotions, our thoughts, and our spirits are aligned with holiness. We try to repair our relationships with ourselves, with each other, with God. We try to relinquish the emotional and spiritual calluses which protect us in ordinary life, and to go deep into awareness of our mortality and deep into connection with something beyond ourselves."
I've been thinking of atonement in my own religious tradition, which traditionally comes at Lent, that time period that begins with Ash Wednesday and takes us to the week before Easter. I've been thinking about ashes and other symbols of our mortality.
I'm thinking about my friend's Hindu priest who smears ashes on his forehead every day. It reminds him that we're only here for a short time. It reminds him to keep events in perspective. So few things are worth getting upset over.
On Ash Wednesday, many Christians have a cross of ash smeared on their foreheads. I've written a series of poems that have Ash Wednesday in the title. Some are more hopeful than the one I will post below.
Still, I will post it, because it was recently nominated for a Best of the Net award. It's the first time my work has been nominated. I'm not sure what happens next. Do all the nominees compete against each other? Is there an awards night? Is there some kind of collection that exists only on the net? An eBook of winners that people could buy?
But in the end, it doesn't matter. I'm incredibly happy that editor Jessie Carty not only liked my poem enough to publish it in Referential, but to nominate it too.
Ash Wednesday in the Intensive Care Unit
No one has to remind us of our dusty
destiny. Here in the ICU, every day
is Ash Wednesday. Some days we reflect
that an awful lot of fluid precedes
our descent into dust—fluids
come and go into the wrong crevices,
the body leaks and oozes
before it dwindles into dryness.
Still, the priest makes his rounds, smudges
comatose foreheads with ashes from the palms
of a distant celebration. How long ago
that we protested this archaic ritual.
Now Ash Wednesday claims its place as the most relevant
day of the church calendar.
Trapped in our failing flesh,
the liturgical year stopped
in the beginning of this season
of penitence. We long to believe
in resurrection, but in this hospital,
we realize that the viruses and bacteria
will inherit the Kingdom of God.
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