Although normally a time for celebration, Mardi Gras, I’m told, was subdued this year. Today is Ash Wednesday but many of us feel like we’ve been living a year of Lent already. I once told a fellow office worker on Ash Wednesday, “I think about death every day, I don’t need a yearly reminder.” Looking out at the old snow, melting, freezing, refreshed with occasional flurries, I’m reminded of the cycles of nature. I’ve been watching the turn of the year’s wheel. Over the solstice I looked into Yule, and just a few days ago considered Imbolc. The wheel of the year is a symbol for modern earth-based religions seeking to be kept in sync with nature. It is a cycle, slowly turning. Death, in this way of thinking, is part of a larger system. It seems appropriate to consider it this Ash Wednesday.
I say it’s Ash Wednesday but it would be more correct to say “for many Christians it’s Ash Wednesday.” Cultural imperialism is difficult to shake. With the pandemic still embracing us tight we haven’t had much reprieve from thoughts of death these many months. Thinking of the wheel of the year, however, may bring hope. A wheel in motion spins around to a new beginning that, in the nature of circles, is equally at every point. New beginnings are offered every day. While we’ve never been in a year of isolation before, there is nothing that hasn’t been before. Self-aggrandizing dictators, world-wide pandemics, calls for social justice and fairness, have all come around before this. They may come around again. The main thing is to keep it moving.
It moves, in fact, without us. One of our human foibles is being species-centric. When we discuss, in a pique of teenage angst, of “destroying life on earth” we really mean destroying humankind and perhaps many other species as well. Not all. With a kind of collective insanity we go about warring against our own kind, exploiting all other species we deem valuable, and talk as if that’s all that matters. Today, for some, it is Ash Wednesday. For others it is World Human Spirit Day. For many of us it’s just another workday among many very similar, cut from the fabric of a year that has no even spokes to keep it rolling. Beneath our feet this orb spins on, regardless. The cycles continue, with or without us. How wonderful it would be if we could actively contribute to their progress.