Humans are fascinated with fire. We sit fireside watching the soft flickering lights of the fire’s flames. We feel the pleasant warmth on our face, and the corresponding cold on our backs. We relax, we contemplate. Fire pulls stories from our hearts and memories, imagination from the dark dotted skies. We feel an unseen palpable connection to the mystery of life and cosmos. And the next morning we find fire replaced with cold ash. And what is the nature of ash? Oxygen and carbon plus heat produces a chemical reaction resulting in water, carbon dioxide, and ash. I asked my family that Sunday afternoon what ash might symbolize: something burnt up, spent, dirty, ugly; death, destruction, the end, no turning back; cold; releasing, letting go; mourning, grief, and loss; change, transformation, metamorphosis; refinement. These latter resonated because they are redeeming, like the iridescent shrieking phoenix rising from flame and death and ash. Ancient Isaiah prophesied of One who would “give beauty for ashes,” not reversing the irrevocable fire reaction, going from ash to beauty, not an exchange of one for the other, not a resurrection of ash back to wood. But a gift. Though the world turns everything to ash and dust and rust, there is One who overcame the world, and gives us beauty where only ash is expected. Beauty for ashes. As the family gathered that Sunday afternoon, this is what I taught them, this is how I coaxed from them faith, led them to hope, with the idea that the individual’s life of ash is just that, so much ash, but that beauty awaits us both here and beyond. I handed them each a lidded cup of ash from dried palm fronds I burned that morning, which had fallen from great palm heights onto Jeanette’s back yard, surrounded with orange trees, and I burned the fronds and let them cool, and spooned them into the cups and snapped on the lids, and handed a little cup of ash to each niece and nephew and child, and with that ash invited them to remember Beauty.
(Pictured above, the epitome of beauty, scarlet poppies and other flowers on the grounds of the Mesa Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mesa, Arizona, April 2022.)