I was boosting up my fire this morning, careful not to boost it too much for it is just not that cold. That’s when I noticed my ash bucket was full. Well, my mind, being on wheels, moving all the time, mostly rolling down hill, It occurred to me that “ash or ashes” has appeared  in the English language over the years with several connotations and uses. Here are a few.

If you have ever attended a graveside service, the person officiating may have recited or read words like, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. I was once asked where in the Bible could that phrase be found. Well, it can’t. It isn’t there. There is that bit in Genesis 3:19 – By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. No ashes there. it’s a good line, but it’s not Biblical.

Then there is that song ASHES AND WINE. Is there a chance, a fragment of light at the end of the tunnel, a reason to fight? Is there a chance you might change your mind or are we ashes and wine? No mixing ashes and wine. Total opposites. No hope for a happy combination. I know some marriages like that.

Then there is hauling your ashes, or having them hauled, which seems to be preferred. This term seems to have originated in the early part of the 20th century among blues singers who were geniuses at not saying explicitly what they were saying. Hauling one’s ashes is a reference to having wild monkey sex. “Boy, you look like someone just hauled your ashes”. As in cleaned out your stove. The actual origin of the phrase is kind of murky. Probably a good thing. But if you ever discover it, please let me know.

I read Elizabeth George’s PLAYING FOR THE ASHES some time ago. The term is a reference to a biennial cricket match between England and Australia. It seems that in 1882 Australia beat the Brits on their home field, I believe it’s popularly called a pitch, which is actually that part of the field where “Bowler” and the “Batsman” work out. The papers moaned that English cricket had died and the remains would be cremated and taken to Australia. Ever since, the two countries have been playing for an urn containing the ashes of a cricket ball. Hence – playing for the ashes. I think they drink martinis at cricket matches. It’s about the only way I could enjoy a cricket match.

It’s the Lenten season, which is also not in the Bible, but to be fair, nobody said it was. But it has it’s merits. It’s a time of fasting ( a very good thing ) and reflection ( another good thing ). In the more liturgical churches, or denominations, on that first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, some people mark themselves or are marked in a ceremony at church, with a cross of ash on their foreheads to symbolize the ashes of penance. That can’t hurt either.

I am cleaning out my stove and in the process I have ash marks all over myself, some even, with a large dollop of imagination, resembling crosses . As I haul my ashes out to the spot where I dump them, I’ll trudge through crusty mushy muddy snow and meditate all the way on my frail humanity that truly needs Devine intervention, or in lieu off that, perhaps central heat.

Dust we are and to dust we shall return, even if we end up as a jar of ashes to be laid to rest in some sacred ground, scattered at some treasured spot or parceled out among friends and family who have always wanted a little piece of us with which to do something creative.

Leave a Reply