- Jen Wise
Like many people in our part of the country, we live in a really old house. We’ve been told it dates back to the late 1700s. And having been only minimally updated since then, I, of course, have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with this house. I really don’t love that the laundry is at the bottom of a steep, winding stairway — and, I fight a constant organizational battle because there are almost no closets.
But there are things I love, like the old chunky woodwork, and reading nooks, and other things that have evolved over time, like the tiling on the stairs. Someone, many years ago, poured time, creativity, and love into these very weird handmade tiles. Some have unicorns, some have patterns, there’s even one with a giant bull frog. Each one is glazed in different hues of purples and blues.
Everyone notices these tiles. They’re colorful. They’re strange. And truthfully not installed very well (I’m pretty sure the same person was responsible for both parts of this project).
But I love them, because when I pop up and down the stairs they make me smile – they serve as a constant reminder that other people have come before us in this home. I’m not the first woman to raise a family here. We’re not the first family to pour into this house and neighborhood. It’s bittersweet though, too — because just as much as it’s a reminder of those who have come before us, it’s also a reminder that there are still those who are yet to come. And that our time, in this house, and on this earth, is fleeting.
And this is a weird feeling, isn’t it? Especially in our culture where we like to think that we’re invincible — and where we’re really uncomfortable with anything that says we’re not.
But I recently read an article from the New York Times titled, “Want to be Happier? Start Thinking More About Your Death." This sounds paradoxical, but the article describes a practice known as “corpse meditation” — which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The practitioner contemplates photos of corpses in varying stages of decay — and they’re taught to say this about their own bodies as they meditate, “This body, too. Such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.”
This might sound a little morose, but the idea behind it is important for us.
The author describes it this way, “This meditation on death is intended as the key toward better living. It makes disciples aware of the transitory nature of their own physical lives and stimulates a realignment between momentary desires and existential goals. In other words, it makes one ask, ‘Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?’”
And this is a similar place we arrive during lent.
The Curse… Reversed
Psalm 103:14-15 says this: “For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust. As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, our lives are temporary. These bodies are temporary. We have come from dust, and we will return to dust. And this all stems way back to the beginning with Adam and Eve. They disobeyed God, and as a portion of the curse God says to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
You see, there is nothing natural about death. Death was never a part of the original plan. But as we read later in Romans 6, the wages of sin is death. And this is precisely why we find ourselves in this state. And this is precisely why Easter is so important.
Because in our frailty, marred by sin, God cares for us. Psalm 103:13 says that “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.”
God sees us as we truly are, he remembers we are dust, and he has compassion on us. Even back in the Garden of Eden, when sin and death entered the world with one bite, God’s unyielding love for his people shines through as he speaks to the serpent. In Genesis 3:15 God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Here, God foreshadows the promised day when Jesus will return, victorious, conquering sin and death for good. Even before Adam and Eve have left the garden, God has already begun his mission to rescue us, restore our world, and reverse the curse.
And we’re invited to be a part. Because while Ash Wednesday and Lent are heavy with the weight of sin and death, they also have an eye toward the empty tomb. We, who are cared for by God, are invited to make the most of the time we’ve been given to share his love, bind up wounds, and point others to the bright hope of the resurrection.
Author and Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen says it this way, “Those who keep speaking about the sun while walking under a cloudy sky are messengers of hope, the true saints of our day.” Let’s be messengers of hope.
What will we do with our scarce and precious lives? How can we use the time we’ve been given for the things that matter — for joining in God’s mission to heal and restore this world — to reverse the curse? Let’s let this be the focus of our minds and hearts this Lenten season.