Ashes, ashes, ashes. Next week is Ash Wednesday the official start of Lent, and this week I am scattering the ashes of my dog Herman at his favorite dog park in Colorado. Ashes, ashes, ashes.
When Herman died last year it broke my heart. He was in my life for 16 years, basically my entire adult life. As I thought about where to spread his ashes, someplace he loved, I immediately thought of his favorite dog park. It is an enormous, fully fenced, off-leash, multi-acre park complete with trails, a stream, toys, and more. When he was young, he would stay as long as I would let him. As he aged, he still pushed himself until my vet started recommending I not let him overdo it so much. He loved it there.
So, this week Kevin's work was taking him to our old hometown, so I decided to tag along to take Herman "home." One of the most surprising parts of the trip was how emotional I became about the simple cardboard box that held Herman's ashes. They weren't just his ashes, they were him. Kevin and I both found ourselves talking about them as we used to talk about him. Do you have Herman? Where is Herman? Let me hold Herman.
As we tearfully scattered his ashes on a hill overlooking the park, in full view of the nearby 14,000 foot-tall Pikes Peak mountain, I was overcome.
Each year as we come to Ash Wednesday I have to do some extra work to make it meaningful for me. I didn't grow up in a church that honored days like Ash Wednesday, and yet I have found there is a wealth of spiritual depth I missed because of it. I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to things like Ash Wednesday and Lent.
This year, though, it seems clear to me that the famous Ash Wednesday phrase, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From dust you came and to dust you shall return," will hold a much more powerful meaning. You see, this week I learned that dirt isn't just dirt. I used to walk Herman at that dog park and thoughtlessly wipe the dirt off my shoes and his paws after each visit. But now I realize that Herman (and many other precious pets) are part of that dirt. Our loved ones, our ancestors, all life on this planet is mixed up in the dirt of our lives. When we place God-lenses on our eyes, it is easy to see how every single thing on this planet--every part of creation--is truly sacred.
I won't be wiping the dirt off my shoes today. I'll let Herman walk with me just as long as possible. I hope each of you are blessed as you continue your spiritual walk today.