Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Poems for Lent (5): ‘Marked by Ashes,’ by Walter Brueggemann

Ashes (1894),by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

Patrick Comerford

A week after Ash Wednesday, my choice of a Poem for Lent today is ‘Marked by Ashes,’ by Walter Brueggemann, in which he says:

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes


This poem is included in his book Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp. 27-28. This is a poem not only for Ash Wednesday, but for every Wednesday in Lent:

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death


Walter Brueggemann, who born in Nebraska in1933, a distinguished Old Testament scholar and theologian. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, he is now a Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He is the author of over 70 books, hundreds of articles, and several Biblical commentaries, and is known for his brilliant method of combining literary and sociological modes in reading the Bible.

For over 30 years, Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) he has combined the best of critical scholarship with his love for the local church and its service to the kingdom of God. His experience as a long-standing member of his local church gave rise to his book Prayers for a Privileged People, which includes this poem.

Canon Simon Cowling of Sheffield Cathedral, in a blog posting last week said: “At first reading the prayer, with its striking and insistent use of ‘Easter’ as an imperative verb, appears to be less about Lenten penitence and fasting than about Resurrection joy and feasting. Digging more deeply, we begin to understand that the prayer is an exploration of an archetypal, perhaps the archetypal, New Testament theme: the mysterious space between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’; between Christ’s resurrection victory and his coming again at the consummation of all things.”

In Brueggemann’s prayer it is Ash Wednesday, or just ‘Wednesday’, that stands for this space. And God’s ‘eastering’ of this space continually reminds us that, even in the midst of our Lenten disciplines, the fruits of Christ’s resurrection continue to be known in our lives and the life of the Church.

Marked by Ashes by Walter Brueggemann

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day ...
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.