Meet Ashes. (Brother to lustrous black cat Cinders.) Seen here demonstrating his impromptu posing skills. Years ago I wanted to snap a quick picture of a favorite vintage blazer before offering it to others. He decided to assist.
My gray cat came to mind on Ash Wednesday. He’s long since returned to the dust.
Ashes would occasionally exhibit his artistic skills and philosophical leanings. He appeared to be a student of entropy — perhaps existentially mindful of his eventual demise.
Near the metropolitan condominium where I first lived with these two fine felines was a delightful little upscale card shop. You would be presented with your chosen greeting cards in prettily patterned thin paper bags upon purchase. They were Ashes’ sculpting medium. He’d delicately tear off little strips, casting them about in a rather decorative, almost purposeful manner. Then he’d sit by his installation protectively when I’d fire up the vacuum cleaner. (Cinders was more inclined to take a solid thwack at the objects of his attention and only tore into a paper bag if it was unopened cat food.)
I saw various forms of Ash Wednesday observances described online — often involving artistic bags and/or kits. I was not fully aware of this “imposition” when I was growing up.
There was the public display in an outdoor bandshell of a neatly smudged cross in the middle of his forehead by someone who said his usual display of enthusiastic support might often be only three, “maybe four” loud claps.
There was the pastor in a darkened rural church who literally sucked it up (through a built-in straw of sorts in a discreetly concealed water bottle) after her stirring rendition of vocals for the Holden Evening Prayer Service (a dear favorite of mine) and words about her Lenten journey. The earnestness of her plea about the words of her mouth and meditations of her heart being acceptable generated in me the thought “she’s going to go ‘off-script.’” I leaned in. She poured out some heartfelt “heaviness.” Then more beautiful singing. She loves Lent.
There were the two pastors from different churches working together in a manner I was somewhat accustomed to as a kid. That sermon was about getting lost literally and figuratively. I fondly remember those AAA TripTiks of which he spoke. More recently I’ve been impressed with the somewhat humbling but helpful navigational device that tells you when it’s “recalculating.”
And that’s kind of what Lent is all about — a directive advance toward a holy destination, with all the pathway recalibrating that often (and especially this year) expectantly entails.