Ashes on my soul

Rosi Penner Kaufman is on a roll! Here is a beautiful Ash Wednesday reflection I have heard her share, then asked her to write. Remember that we will meet next Wednesday, February 14, at 6:30 pm to receive ashes on our souls (or foreheads), if you are so inclined. 

By Rosi Penner Kaufman

My poor mother. I was (am?) an inquisitive child, and I know she was sometimes frustrated by my incessant questions. When I was about five years old, I remember one conversation in particular that went on for several days. It started when I asked her, “Where is my soul?” I’m sure I had heard something at church about taking care of one’s soul, and well, I was someone who followed the rules so I wanted to know how to do that. Of course her first answer was, “On the bottom of your feet,” which really confused me. Then I explained that no, I was talking about the “other” soul. She was stumped. Her first answer was, “It’s inside you, but it’s bigger than you are.” That kept me quiet for about two days. “But where? Is it inside my head? Around my heart? Somewhere in my stomach? What happens to it after I die? Does it float away somewhere? How am I supposed to take care of it if I don’t know what or where it is?

My mother’s final answer was something like, “It’s between your head and your heart. You decide.”

So, I did. For a while, I imagined my soul at home in that soft place at the base of my neck. But somehow that seemed too vulnerable, so I moved it under my left collarbone. It seemed more protected there, but still between my head and my heart. For a long time, I fell asleep with my hand on my shoulder so my soul wouldn’t leave as I slept.

I had forgotten about that until a few years ago, at an Ash Wednesday service. The leader said something about “the soul in ashes,” and my old posture came to mind. At the first Ash Wednesday service Ruth led at Rainbow, when I approached her for ashes, I pulled back my collar and asked her to put the ashes on my collarbone. I made up some excuse about not wanting a cross on my forehead for choir rehearsal, but it was more than that. There’s a part of me that feels that every now and then, my soul should remember the ashes. When I pray, I often find myself with my hand on my shoulder, trying to be in touch with my soul.

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