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“Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot

It’s as beautiful a poem as it is hard to understand.

I’ve been sitting here at my desk at work reading and rereading T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday.” I couldn’t help it.

It’s as beautiful a poem as it is hard to understand, and to me it was possibly most beautiful on about the third slow read, when I was familiar enough with the words not to stumble, but still couldn’t say exactly what he was talking about. That is, I couldn’t say exactly what he was talking about, but somehow I think my spiritual self was attune to its meaning.

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“Ash Wednesday” is as much a prayer as a poem, I finally realized, where Eliot longs to live a spiritual life among the temptations of this world:

Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks

Today, while I contemplate which siren song I will absolutely resist (at least!) for the duration of Lent, and try to choose the one temptation that makes me weakest spiritually, I pray the prayer of “Ash Wednesday.” I will sit still, in His will, and read “Ash Wednesday” just one more time. Then I’ll ask angels to pull me away and help me concentrate on my worldly work.

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