At the edge of a wood stands a larkspur, its deep green leaves characteristically rounded, and with delicately bending, yet firmly formed, slender, stem. The blossom seems as if cut out of heavy silk, of a blue as deep as a gem, so that the whole air around seems filled with it. Someone comes and plucks the flower, and then, getting tired of it, throws it on the fire. In a few moments the whole bright splendour has become a small streak of grey ash.
And what the fire has done here in a few moments, that time does constantly to all that is alive; to the dainty fern, to the tall mullein, to the mighty, upstanding oak. It does the same to the light butterfly and the swift flying swallow; to the agile little squirrel and to the massive ox; always it is the same, whether faster or slower. It may come from a wound or from sickness, from fire, or starvation, or what not; but sooner or later all glowing life becomes mere ash.
From the strong form, a trembling handful of dust, which a puff of wind will scatter. From the shining colours, a grey powder. From the warm, growing, feeling life, barren, dead earth, less than earth – ashes!
So it is with us also. Do we not shudder when we look into an open grave and see, besides some bones, a few handfuls of grey ash?
‘Remember, Man, that thou art dust;
And to dust shalt thou return.’
Destruction, that is the meaning of Ashes.
Our destruction, not that of others. Ours – mine! They speak to me of my passing away, when the priest, on the first day of Lent, marks my forehead with ashes which were fresh green branches on the previous Palm Sunday.
‘Memento, homo, quia pulvis es
Et in pulverem reverteris.’
All will become ashes. My house, my clothes, my goods, my money; field and heath and forest; the dog that runs at my side, the cattle in the stall; the hand with which I write, the seeing eye, and my whole body; people I have loved, people I have hated, people I have feared; whatever has seemed to me on earth to be great, or to be small, or to be contemptible: all, ashes – all!
This liturgical meditation is take from Guardini's book, Sacred Signs.
This excerpt is found on page 27 of the printed edition.