Thursday, March 04, 2021

Salt and ashes

The images the prophet Jeremiah uses in today's readings are harsh: bushes that bear no fruit, lava wastes, fields sown with salt.  They feel all the more so to me after hiking through lava fields a few years ago, blackened, fissured swaths of land scoured clean of life winding through lush grasslands.  With no soil to hold the rocky surface in place, the gravel rolled under my feet, leaving me off balance, unstable, at risk.  The ground had been cooling since before I was born, yet I still burned my hand on steam roiling out a crack in the earth. Sulfurous mist swirled around the crater, eating away at skin and lungs.  I longed to dive into a pool of cool water.

I have tasted salt and ashes in my life, too, stumbling when I encounter uncertain ground, looking for life and breath in places where there was none. I have committed sins that created seemingly uncrossable fissures between me and those I love. Between me and God.  

Like the rich man in Luke's gospel, who begged Abraham for drop of water from Lazarus’ hand, I long for the cool sweetness of consolation.  Just a drop of holy water from a saint’s hand and all will be well, I think. But as a single torrential rain storm will not bring life back to the lava waste, neither is one drop enough to restore my soul, even from the hand of a saint.

Tolle lege, a voice called to St. Augustine in the garden one afternoon: take and read. “You have Moses and the prophets,” I hear Abraham say.  Meditate on God’s law day and night, urges the psalmist.  Let these streams of running water wear away the roughness of your stony heart.  Root yourself deeply in the rich soil of the prophets. The readings encourage me to pick up the Scriptures: Take and read! Read to go beyond what is presented to me at Mass, and read to actively seek out the Word.  Find ways to let scripture’s cool comfort wash over me day and night.

— Excerpted from Not By Bread Alone (2020), Michelle M. Francl-Donnay

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