Thoughts on Embers, a Lenten reflection

I’m sitting here in front of a log trying to catch embers in the fireplace, and I’m not sure what to do. Yesterday, I had some bad luck when I fooled with the fire too much and it went out. I realized I had to stack it right, then wait, and trust, that it would catch and burn and roar. It did. But now I’m here with morning embers and I wonder if this log will catch without help. I watch the carbon turn the front underside of this log black and gray and white, and every so often an orange sparkle appears on that log, but nothing has caught to life. I don’t have a lot of time to burn this fire, so I’m not stacking it high and building it up because I don’t need all that, but I would like this log to catch so I can sit here with one more little fire before leaving this mountain house. Are the embers, and time, enough?

This is making me wonder about my fertility. Everything does, so I’m not surprised. My body has glowing embers inside. Is there enough to start this fire and give me a pregnancy that lasts, one that bears fruit of a baby to catch on the day of his birth? I have tried fiddling with this fire many times, and no fire has come. Should I just try to content myself with my embers now and hope for a fire to catch when the time is right? Or should I intervene? Will a fire catch and burn bright and unquenchable, or will these embers cool and smoke and dissolve into dust?

It’s a few days past Ash Wednesday, the first Sunday of Lent. The alleluias are asleep and it’s a quiet time. I’m reminded that just a few days ago, I wore ash on my forehead, same as I see in this hearth. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. Will I have an existence as dust of the earth, dust that blows in the wind and never becomes fertile soil? Is my life more that of the dust of ashes, white and black left over from the fires of those who came before me? Dirt and Ash come from something once living. Are they obliged to be alive again?

The alleluias are asleep and it’s a quiet time.

I think of two Lents ago, Palm Sunday, knowing I was growing my first child within me. Taking my palm in my hand at Mass, raising it high. A living thing. Never realizing it would be turned to ash less than a month later. Christian’s tiny body returned to earth. He is dust, he is ash. And I pray a new fire will emerge from that ash. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it will remain a single grain. But if it dies, it will bear much fruit. Christian has died, and I feel like I die a death every month. A death of dreams, a death of the illusion of my own control. These small deaths have borne fruits of many kinds, but not what I most desire. I wonder and fear if God calls me to die this death, to finally put down the desire for a fire to rise up in me, for Him to till my heart and produce the kind of fruit He wants instead. I’m sad and fearful of this being the case. It does not seem to make sense in light of anything I know about myself, but I am both awed and wary that God’s ways are not mine.

These embers are still faintly glowing, and small crackles punctuate the silence, no louder than a bowl of Rice Krispies, but still there. The embers produce warmth, but no flame. Ash peels off and falls from the underside of the uncaught log, and I sit and stare and pray.

Cayce Farina is a mental health counselor and has been married to her sweet husband, Brian, for 6 years. They are parents to one child in Heaven and run a miscarriage bereavement ministry at their parish. In her spare time, Cayce enjoys baking, singing, musical theatre, and snuggling her two cats.


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