3 Ways to Encounter Beauty this Ash Wednesday (By Ellie Jensen)
In an unlikely place, amidst ash and bones, Beauty touched me to the core. It was a warm November evening with the setting sun making way for sweeping strokes of purple and grey when Fr. Carola led my fellow students and I outside the walls of Rome into a gated cemetery to participate in the Feast of All Souls. Hundreds of glowing candles lined the winding paths of this city of dead enveloping us in warmth and peace. The scent of lilies added to this peace as they delicately decorated the tombs and mausoleums of men and women who once breathed in life just like you and I. Pure voices of a boys’ choir further lifted my heart and left us all in silent awe. We were drenched in beauty, and content in the fullness of that moment and all that it directed us toward.
Don’t we all long to be drawn outside of ourselves, somehow united more with humanity? It is the encounter with beauty that enables us to experience this. Beauty reminds us that we are made for something more than we currently experience. Encountering beauty, whether through painting, song, dance, food, community, or amidst the holy grounds of a cemetery, points us toward our truest identity: timeless creatures living in a time-bound world, destined for the eternal. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said only earlier that November day in his general audience: “In Christ, death no longer appears as an abyss of emptiness, but rather a path to life which will never end”. The love which drew people to gather in honor and reverence of the dead to bring their best offerings of beauty opened me to Beauty Himself and revealed to me the truth that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI spoke to.
In my childhood, I experienced death as a thief. And it certainly is. This is a natural and universal response. In God’s original plan, death did not exist. There is something deep in our core that knows this and so, feels robbed when someone we love dies. This experience outside of Rome taught me that death and the suffering inflicted by loss can be cause for celebration when viewed through the promise of Christ and His cross. Ash Wednesday is right around the corner. A day when many dormant Catholics decide to make time for mass. It might seem surprising that this day of all days would draw so many people. But I think that it points to our desire to be reminded of our origins and of our destiny. So, I’ll leave you with three encouragements to grow your own encounter with Beauty through ashes:
1. Go to mass on Ash Wednesday and wear your ashes boldly. Embrace this opportunity to proclaim that death does not have the final word. Participate in the beauty of pointing others to the truth that Christ purchased eternal life for each of us who believes and follows Him.
2. Smile amidst suffering. This is a lesson my Grandma taught me by her example. During her last days on this earth, bed-ridden and in extreme pain, anytime I walked into her room for a chat or just to be near her, she would lock eyes with me and smile. It was clear that each smile was a choice, that it wasn’t easy or natural for her amidst such pain and the burden of the nearness of death. These smiles of hers were some of the most beautiful I’ve received. And the memory of her smile amidst such suffering has inspired me to greater courage in my own life and sufferings. So, smile; smile in your joy and smile through your tears. Share the gift of your smile when life has you down and out, for a pain-filled smile communicates deeply the message of hope bringing beauty into others’ lives.
3.Visit the graves of your loved ones. Bring flowers, share your heart and your time. I promise it will not be in vain. For truly there is beauty to be found amidst these ashes.
Ellie Jensen is a deep thinker with a passion for the Divine. She is gifted with an angelic voice that, when encountered through song, moves you from within. But don’t let any of that deceive you, she is not just wise and elegant, she is also a woman of strength and adventure who you can find traveling the world or simply playing broom-ball on ice.
Contact this gal if you need that special voice for your wedding or some epic event/project.
Photos :Jen Frederickson & Leah Damgaard-Hansen
Feel that ache to be in beauty? Check out some of Kate’s faith based art and help spread the Beautiful!