It’s an imposition, the Imposition of Ashes. It’s a crude reality some of us are exposed to only fleetingly, those of us whose routine lives stay out of the path of hunger, pain, illness, and death:
From dust you came and to dust you shall return.
Ashes from the prior year’s Palm Sunday fronds, mixed with oil, are smeared on our foreheads to remind us that we are dust. Today we are complex, integrated human beings, yes, but before long we will be fragments of earth to be buried or dispersed.
Fragments are also what you have when you look in your fridge or cupboard and say, “There’s no food in here! Let’s go shopping/out to eat.”
This past Sunday I pulled out everything in my cupboard and refrigerator–a half bag of dry pintos, some dried coconut strips; a cooked sweet potato, a few limp stalks of celery–and started grouping like things together to see what I could make. We wanted to empty out as many fragments as possible in preparation for SNAP Challenge Day One: buying a week’s worth of food for the family on $99.
More for inspiration than a specific recipe, I opened a cookbook I haven’t used in a while: the More-with-Less Cookbook. At the end of each chapter is a section called Gather Up the Fragments, which lists ideas for re-purposing bits of this and that.
While I chopped and prepped I reflected, rather smugly, that I’m pretty handy with a knife and skillet. My skills will help us cut down on waste.
I had read an article in the Sacramento Bee about kids not learning to cook anymore these days, and thought, Ha! Not me. Not my kids. We can cook from scratch, oh yes.
Anyway, this is what we made with our fragments:
As of yesterday, what we didn’t eat went into the freezer.
Here’s what our cupboard and fridge look like now. We counted a full gallon of milk I bought on Sunday against our upcoming week’s budget, $2.99, and the bunch of parsley as well, $1.00.
In the cupboard we have half a container of rolled oats, 4.5 ounces left of a 24-ounce box of raisins, and 8 ounces of peanut butter. Most SNAP challenges forbid using food you already have, but we figured it was silly to buy all new everything when we’re going to be at this for six weeks instead of the one week a challenge typically lasts. We “bought” those partial items by deducting their per-ounce prices from our budget.
Back to Ashes
“Remember, O mortal, that you are dust; and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19
We know our origin. We know our destination. Ash Wednesday imposes upon us a confrontation with the reality of our mortality. The fragmented pieces of dust and ash are given the shape of the cross. So, too, the fragments of our lives are given shape and purpose through the discipline of following Christ to the cross. We do not live lives born out of random dust, but out of love of God and love of neighbor.
“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?”