Out of the ashes

Group Director of Mission Integration Marcelle Mogg reflects on the Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday as we begin the journey towards Easter.

17 Feb 2021

St John of God Health Care Group Director of Mission Integration Marcelle Mogg reflects on the Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday as we begin the journey towards Easter

The six-week journey, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, draws on rich traditions of culture and practice that invite each of us to reflect on what it means to be human: to be both deeply flawed, and deeply loved.

Ash Wednesday (17 February) has unfortunately come to be deeply associated for many Australians with fire and devastation. In Victoria and South Australia on Ash Wednesday in 1983, 75 people lost their lives to fire, and over 3,500 people made homeless. 

The terrible fires in Western Australia earlier this month call to mind again the devastation that fire can create in the lives of so many, with some 86 homes lost, communities distraught, and livestock and wildlife dead and injured.

The response of so many caregivers in WA to respond directly to the fire threat, to protect those they love and the wider community, and to support one another are all powerful examples of how life can stand against loss and the threat of death.

Fire changes everything it touches. For this reason, in Christian communities, fire has become the symbol of the Holy Spirit – that divine force that moves through our lives and the world, urging us to change, urging us to move from places of loss towards life. 

We all know how hard it is to break bad habits. And so at Ash Wednesday, we are invited to call to mind those aspects of our lives – the patterns of relationship, the habits and practices that we all develop – that are not life giving. It is a time where we practice giving up the things in our lives that hold us back, that stop us from experiencing fullness of life.  

So while ashes are often the lasting symbol of fire and loss, they can also serve as the first sign to remind us to move towards life and living. 

In health care, and in the service of those in the community experiencing vulnerability, we see each day these strange partners of hope and suffering, healing and loss, life and death. One always seems to accompany the other. And it is this recognition that lies at the heart of our journey that starts in the mess of Ash Wednesday and moves towards the life of Easter: to recognise that we are constantly called to seek out ways of living that are generous, loving and life giving, for ourselves and for all those around us.

This Ash Wednesday, let’s each take a moment to consider the ways in which we can let go of the practices in our lives that inhibit us, that hurt those we love, that damage our community and even our environment. Let’s begin to practice ways of living that help each of us to thrive.

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