Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Livestrong the Lenten Way

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

“Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” (Genesis 3:19)

These words are said by the priest when we receive the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Remember it we shall, as that grey spot is rather distinctive in a culture that heaps praises upon cleanly-kept foreheads. That being said, it would be tragic if we only remember it for that one day, and I would argue that this is unfortunately the case.

We live in a do-er society: we are more at ease when talking about what we can control and achieve than our limitations and mortality. I know that I shall return to dust one day, but let's not talk about it for now as I need to dance through life, defy gravity and live life to the fullest. Carpe Diem. Fair enough; but oh captain my captain, does seizing the day mean that we only seize the good and the possible while ignoring our limitations? I politely disagree with a certain automobile commercial that encourages its viewers to “grab life by the horns”. Should we not seize our limitations in some way as well? This becomes particularly apparent when we face life-and-death situations. We can only "Livestrong" for so long; mother nature eventually catches up and wins the race. Every time.

Seizing our limitations does not mean a perpetual retreating into the fetal position; it simply means that we recognize and name what make us finite beings so that we be more in touch with who we truly are. Such an acceptance means that unlike He-Man and his gang, we are not the Masters of the Universe. We do not summon our powers from the mysterious Castle Greyskull, but rather through the scandal of the Cross on that Calvary hill. It is when we are weak that we are strong.

We are dust, and to dust we shall return. This also begs the question: who fashioned us from dust to flesh, from non-existence to existence? The flip side of accepting our finitude is acknowledging the infinitude of our Creator. We recognize what we are by gazing at what we are not. With that in mind, one can then look at the Lenten season from a different angle: how do I remind myself of my own finitude and ultimately of my utter reliance on the Lord who sustains my whole being? How do I wear the grey smudge on my forehead for the next forty days?

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