Sunday, March 13, 2011

to care and not care...

With my fundamentalist/evangelical background (long ago and yet still somehow with me), I have always felt a bit wistful with the keepings of the church calendar, as if it is a bit of a family secret that I should know but really don't. I long to measure my days by these reminders and yet when I try, it feels awkward and foreign. But the following profound reflection on Ash Wednesday does resonate (thanks to Richard Beck for the link):

...lurking within this day’s penitential posture is a celebration of our mortal existence. It is a liturgical episode that takes our physical existence seriously. It is, perhaps surprisingly, an extraordinarily hopeful day. The superficial gloom of ashes to ashes, dust to dust, points to the paradoxical, deep truth of the Christian faith: those who lose their life will gain it. It is a day to be released from the deadliness of doing, which is to say released to live in the world.

Later in the article, the writer references and explains TS Eliot's lines in "Ash Wednesday," "Teach us to care and not to care / Teach us to sit still":

The merger of caring and not caring might be thought of as non-neurotic engagement with the world. It implies a “doing” that is not deadly. When we sit still, we are still sitting in this world, with our bodies – not longing for escape. What Eliot, later in that poem, calls “the time of tension between dying and birth” gestures at our temptation: to turn this tension, the fact of our status as beings-toward-death, into a lack of stillness, of too much caring, of heaping burdens upon ourselves. This stillness ultimately resides within ourselves, for the swirl of the world surely is never ending. The task is not to flee such a world, but to dwell gracefully within it. We can, as Eliot puts it in the first stanza of “Ash Wednesday,” “rejoice that things are as they are…” Acceptance, total acceptance, and not mastery and reform, is the message of Ash Wednesday.

I've been reminded before about being present in the world, about the relationship between paying attention, gratitude and joy in this "time of tension between dying and birth". I am reminded again of how to keep these days, by "inhabiting" the now, whatever it is, "gracefully and lovingly."

(Thanks to family and friends who "dwell gracefully" with me...not an easy task believe me!... and  to Anne, for the book that is embodying these ideas in real stories and fresh language).