Fly Me to the Moon

I am pretty sure that just about everyone who knows me knows that I grew up Roman Catholic. An Anglican now for nearly forty years, there is much of my former tradition I still cherish, some things more than others.😊

My years at Holy Family School were drenched in ritual: rounds of the rosary, First Friday Mass, Stations of the Cross, and mystery filled Ash Wednesdays. Though it was umpteen years ago, I still vividly remember the lengths I would go to preserve that charcoal smudge on my forehead, hoping my bangs did not brush it away.  I wanted to make sure that important people like my my teachers and grandparents got a really good look at it before I washed it off.

What a holy little kid she is. Right up there with the saints! 😊

But I was just a child — what did I really know about Ash Wednesday? It was a children’s game to me. A dark and wonderful game the priest devised for us to play.  

Ring around the rosey, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down.

This first day of Lent — we sing a dark and sad song.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Can you believe that we are in our third pandemic year? Our third year of innumerable loss and unfathomable grief. Almost 7,000,000 souls have died of Covid around the world and nearly a million souls in the United States. This day provides a liturgical space for us to pause and acknowledge just how fleeting and fragile, precious and precarious this life is. Ash Wednesday reminds us that even a very long well-lived life can be reduced to few inches of print in a newspaper.

I remember the first obituary I ever read. It was a yellowed clipping that fell out of a secretary desk at my grandmother’s house. The obit belonged to my great-great-grandfather — Zachariah Hazell. It told a glowing story of how Zachariah had been a prominent Washington business man and architect — how he directed the completion of the Capitol building and had supervised the placement of the statue – Freedom — atop the dome.  Wow! Who knew that I had descended from such a famous person!

While later in life I learned there was some truth to this story, my excitement was quickly dashed.  “No, honey, your great-great granddaddy was not so high and mighty,” said my grandmother, who pretty much pooh-poohed the whole thing, leaving me to believe that the obit was a lie and that Zachariah Hazell was possibly a drunkard besides. (Oh well! Apparently you wrote your own obit back in those days!)  

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Unfold the newspaper (or scroll down your screen) to the obituary section. Each sooty cross marked upon our foreheads is a reminder of those we have buried before us. Father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, husband, wife, daughter, son, friend, lover.

On this Ash Wednesday who do you particularly remember? For me, it is my mom. Eight years ago, with Frank Sinatra crooning on my iPhone, Fly Me to the Moon, my siblings and I returned Mary Lou’s ashes to the ground. At Cedar Hill Cemetery, where generations of my family are buried, we scattered mom atop the graves of her parents, and grandparents, and even on top of her in-laws. (Though I am not too sure she would be very happy about that!) To the stars and to her Savior she returned.

So, on this the first of the forty days of Lent, let’s take a little time for self reflection, examining our consciences. Take a few minutes to think and to pray and maybe even to compose our own obituary. Not one like my great-great grandfather Zachariah Hazell wrote for himself, but an honest one, a penitent and humble one. It may be an uncomfortable exercise but we have nothing to fear.

Because no matter how tawdry the details of our obituary truth might be — the truth of Christ crucified is greater still.  Those wounded hands hung the stars.  Those outstretched arms reach out in love. In Christ, God helps us to make sense of our earthly messes. In Christ, God grants life anew to our mortal souls.

Yes, God only you are immortal, the Creator and maker of all; we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to the earth we shall return. All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia. Alleluia.

Pax vobiscum,


Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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