Receive this cross of ash upon your brow
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross;
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands,
The very stones themselves would shout and sing,
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognize in Christ their lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
Malcolm Guite reads today’s poem
The deepest repentance we find the Bible is that of “dust and ashes.” The ashen cross we have placed on our foreheads is in many ways a repentance of self promotion. We who are careful curators of our own perceived image turn our hearts purposefully toward the imago Dei – the image of God in which we were created.
In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite says this:
I sometimes wonder whether instead of a brief ritual ‘ashing’ we shouldn’t use Ash Wednesday as a day to rebel against our culture’s obsessive concern with body image, presentation, clothing and appearance. Fashion models could be encouraged to dress as dowdily as possible, and we could all be invited to eschew the pressures of those ‘photo-shopped’ images of the impossibly thin and glamorous, resting instead on the inner beauty of simply being loved, at last, and in spite of all, by the maker of the cosmos.
How ironic that our quest for beauty often leads us from its very Source.
How does Ash Wednesday call us to love God with all of our heart?
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”
Art: Blessing the Dust by Jan Richardson
Widely known for books such as Sacred Journeys, Night Visions, and the recently published In the Sanctuary of Women, Jan Richardson is an artist, writer, and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. Her distinctive artwork also appears at her blog The Painted Prayerbook, which Gordon Atkinson of Real Live Preacher has called “one of the most beautiful blogs in the blogosphere.” Whether creating her luminous painted paper collages, or laying down the haunting lines of her charcoal drawings, Jan illuminates the landscape of faith with courageous vision and a generous spirit.
To learn more about Jan’s ministry in word and image, we invite you to visit her website at janrichardson.com.
Literature & Liturgy: Malcolm Guite and The Word in the Wilderness
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo: Lancia Smith
The Word in the Wilderness
A poem a day for Lent, Holy week and Easter
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.