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Lenten Reflections: Ash Wednesday

February 18
Reflection by John Glynn, STM’11

Reflection for Ash Wednesday 2015

John Glynn, STM'11, is a campus minister at Boston College where he oversees the wildly popular Kairos Retreats for BC undergraduates. John also serves as Resident Minister to undergrads in Ignacio and Rubenstein Halls, and is actively engaged with the Contemplative Leaders in Action program through The Jesuit Collaborative in Boston.

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Today is Ash Wednesday, and all over the world we celebrate today by staining our foreheads with ashes. It’s a simple sign of our place in the order of things, but I’ve found myself thinking a lot about it over the past few years: what it means to me, why we do it, and how it serves to mark the beginning of our Lenten journey to Easter.

As I sit here writing this, the snow is lazily drifting past my window (again), and outside a rarely experienced calm is settling over the Boston College campus. We’re moving less. If going outside can be avoided, it will be. If classes should be cancelled, they have been. A stillness is taking hold. 

Sitting still has never been easy for me, but in this moment I’m compelled to soak it in. The snow, while often interruptive and frustrating, is also changing the landscape dramatically. New paths are tramped out across the quads. Trees glisten in the gloaming. Icicles refract light in new and wondrous ways. And I find myself arrested by the extraordinary beauty that has suddenly sprung in places ordinary and familiar.

Ashes, a simple sign of my mortality, have similarly become something beautiful for me on Ash Wednesday. In reminding me of my own humbleness, I reencounter myself as a vulnerable, limited person; stripping me of the way I project myself as successful, accomplished, and strong. I am not those things – I am simply dust – but dust that is wonderfully and intimately loved by God.

Lent is a time of repentance, of making paths straight. Sin, like snow that obscures reliable routes, has changed the landscape, and I’ve tramped out paths for my heart that haven’t always led me to God. But Lent gives me an opportunity to set a new path, to forge a new relationship with God who cares for me even though I’m simply dust.

Over these upcoming weeks of Lent I’ll explore how journeying through Lent invites us each to a greater sense of authenticity, helping us to become more of who God created us to be. To aid us will be Boston College students, who will reflect on their own Lenten journeys, and how here at BC they are discovering who they truly are.  I invite you to come along with us. 

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found —
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

~Mary Oliver~
excerpted from American Primitive

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