Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10 (KJV)
Don’t be afraid of your hunger. I gave it for your fullness, The cravings, the pinched gullet, the corrosive wants, all have come to serve you. Don’t be afraid of the pablum, the drivel in your diet, or the sharp cactus burrs when you swallow. Don’t be afraid even if you don’t know you are hungry.
A well-established French cinematic tradition is to spin out a story that seems to be about very little—until you get a peek beneath the surface and can see it is about a dizzying number of things. Then the themes and symbols rain down, forcing you to watch and listen carefully lest you miss one of the clues that helps explain, perhaps even solve, the tale.
I’ve seen the Kathmandu corpses, garlanded with marigolds, burned to a crisp, holy smoke sifting across the river, censing the air for the tourists. In Annapurna’s narrow lap this valley, chock full of bones, is too cramped for burials. Instead, the dead are loaded onto burn piles stacked with logs from the foothills, now naked and eroding, pillaged for ceremony, death gathering to itself more death up the slow gradient of necessity. Mourners chant. Mortality teaches our ears, eyes, noses as the little boats of skeletal ash and charcoal are launched, freed from the funeral ghats, to drift downstream.
Urged now to weigh the manner of my final dispersal, I’m not averse to incineration. But I confess this foolish comfort: to lie beside my husband in our grave—a double bed we chose together— the full, aged remnant of the body he loved, knowing heaven can pull together from earth or urn, from bones or ashes, whatever is needed for what’s next.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).