The Rector's Column

by The Rev. Dr. Jason L. Parkin

       The smudge of ashes on the brow,
       The charge, "Remember that thou
       Art dust and shalt to dust return-"
       These are the words, the dictum stern
       Of God, relayed in rite
       The ages down to hearts contrite.
       Remember then, O Ichabod,
       That dust thou art, gold dust for God

This brief poem was written on an Ash Wednesday many years ago by a priest named Francis Chesebrough Lightbourn. Some of you will remember Francis and his wonderful wife, Marion; and I know that this poem has appeared previously in The Dove. I reprint it here for personal reasons. Francis was a dear friend of mine over 50 years my senior. He was a 7th generation priest from Bermuda; and one of my prized possessions is a set of books-The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity by Richard Hooker, originally published in the 1590s, and the foundational work of Anglican theology-that his uncle had bought upon graduating from seminary in 1875, which he had passed on to Francis upon his graduation from seminary in 1931, who, in turn, presented them to me shortly after my ordination. Someday, I, too, when my years are long, will pass these volumes on to a younger priest whom I admire and respect, as I hope was the case for Francis when he gave them to me.

Francis died in 1991, and his funeral was, in fact, the final one at which I officiated before leaving Holy Comforter to move to Iowa City that June. He had been in a coma for several days when I went to his nursing home to administer the last rites of the Church. To my astonishment, as I reached the final blessing, Francis stirred from the coma for just a few seconds, and made a faltering, but absolutely unmistakable, sign of the cross over his head and chest. Shortly after, he died. And as I contemplated this frail, elderly man before me-this eccentric, brilliant, absent-minded scholar and librarian, poet and priest-I understood the truth of the poem above. Truly we are all made to be "gold dust for God." From God do we come; to God shall we some day go; and this all-too-brief, sometimes challenging, frequently lovely life is, for people of faith, a time in which we can shine for God, in which we can be scattered by God to reflect holiness and life wherever we may land.

On Ash Wednesday, we will, in a rite used "the ages down," impose ashes on our foreheads as a sign of our mortality and dependence on God. We will begin the powerful and holy season of Lent. We will commence the journey-often difficult and confusing, but ultimately hopeful-toward the cross and the grave and the empty tomb. And we will be reminded, once more, that we are indeed dust: gold dust for God.