Some of you may know I work at a goat farm every Wednesday. Last year on Ash Wednesday I wrote this reflection after working all afternoon. It still feels very true, at the end of another Ash Wednesday partially spent working at the farm.
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Ash Wednesday, 2016
I’m shoveling out a goat barn. I’m pitchfork-shoveling out a goat barn and thinking about ashes, and earth, and muck, and mud. I’m thinking about the traditional words of Ash Wednesday, “remember you are ashes, and to ashes you shall return.”
Mostly I’m thinking about muck. With the big snows we’ve had lately, the muck is even muckier than usual. It never ends, you know. The muck.
We come from this, too, don’t we? I’m shoveling and thinking about how we come from this stuff that is caked on my knees from holding yearling kids as we adjusted their collars. We come from this stuff, too.
And I don’t really mean that we’re muck because we’re sinners. Just that we’re elemental. We’re made of the stuff of the earth. Like this muck is the stuff of the earth.
And I’m shoveling and I stretch and the spring-hinting wind cools off my February sweat and yes, we are this too. We are made of the stuff of the earth.
Fire, these aching muscles, this anointing of goat tails and rooster combs with healing salve, this sky ablaze as the sun sets over the mountains.
Water, these slick snow-muddy rivulets running downhill, these geese Fred and George splashing with delight, these water buckets filling and spilling so no one thirsts.
Earth, this grounded animal love, these mountains, these deer leaping into the pasture, and yes, this unending muck.
We are elemental. We are made from all this. Air, Fire, Water, Earth. The stuff of the earth, of creation. Sacred.
We are the stuff of the earth. Earthy, muddy, breathy bodies that stretch and love and creak and sing…and that have limits. Our bodies break. Our hearts break. As I take a moment to rest I think about our fleshy bodies and their limits. We are not robots or machines whose only purpose is to produceproduceproduce. We are fleshy, tender beings here to love, here to be in awe, here to shovel out a goat’s barn so they have a clean place to sleep.
The goats and chickens and geese are in bed, and I’m sore. I drive down the mountain back into town. I’m thinking about muck and about ashes on my forehead. I need those ashes on my forehead today, marking me, reminding me, that I am elemental. I am a tender, fleshy, elemental human being. Sacred.
I pull into the parking lot of my partner’s church and text her. I smell strongly of barnyard, so she comes outside, and under the light of the waxing crescent moon, she offers me the elements, bread and juice, and then marks my forehead with ashes.
She uses the traditional words. In my elemental body, though, I hear, “Remember you are muck, and to muck you shall return.”
May it be so.
Farm sky at sunset.