The Most Honest Day

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The words of Ash Wednesday jar us to a sudden stop.

It may be the most honest day of the Christian liturgical calendar, the day our daily denial of death is called out from the shadows of species-illusion and self-delusion that tells us, “You will not die.”

Who is the ‘you’ that is dust (of the earth) and will return to dust?

We think the body will die. But not the “I”. Not the “you”. Only matter, not spirit, not my soul. The imposition of ashes says differently. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are “imposed” on the forehead in the sign of the cross. In those few seconds I stand before the mirror of my mortal reality more humbly, jarred, but somehow strangely comforted, that I – and all things natural, human and otherwise – are dust, and that it is as it should be, if only we understood and gave thanks for today.

The strange man: Honest to God

Yesterday we published a sermon by Robert Hamerton-Kelly, whose thought had ben influenced by Rene Girard. Today we draw attention to another provocative thinker influenced by Girard. His name is Sebastian Moore.

Years ago I met a strange-looking man at the Episcopal Campus Ministry Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I was a campus minister at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and had gone there to a meeting of campus ministers. There was this strange monk who said nothing. He just observed. He was weird, but his eyes were penetrating.

Sebastian Moore OSB

Sebastian Moore OSB

I never gave it much thought until much later when I recognized him from a picture related to the book that had changed my perspective on the cross: The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger. I’ve been reading Sebastian Moore OSB, for fifteen years now. Moore is influenced, to some degree, by Rene Girard, the ground-breaking French anthropological philosopher at Stanford whose theories of mimetic desire and the scapegoat system have impacted the fields of anthropology, social psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology.

In a recent search for Moore’s latest works, of culture, I ran across a radio interview with Sebastian Moore. Here’s a link that includes another link to Moore’s radio interview.

It appears that Moore’s The Body of Christ is the latest published book of this strange monk, published when he was of the ripe old age of 94. Here’s the link.

A grief expressed

How does one give expression to the depth of horror that follows the death of a son or daughter, as in the case of David’s lament for Absalom? (See sermon “Holy Tears: David, Absalom…and Us” posted here yesterday.)  Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses it in poetry.

O World! O Life! O Time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more -Oh, never more!

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more -Oh, never more!

But music, the language of the soul, best expresses the cry from the depths, the prayer from the abyss for help for the helpless. In such moments of loss – and in the spiritual discipline of Good Friday reflection – I listen to “Libera Me” from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. So soulful. So honest. Real. Vulnerable. Pleading. A primal but lovely cry, given voice from the depths by a great composer.