My father brought me some biscuit that had soot on it from his hands. “Never mind,” he said, “there’s nothing cleaner than ash.” But it affected the taste of that biscuit, which I thought might have tasted like the bread of affliction, which was often mentioned in those days, though it’s mostly forgotten now.
The mourning women would weep and wail on the behalf of those who could not properly grieve. The mourning women would don sackcloth and ashes, in solidarity with those who call upon them. The mourning women knew intimately the bread of affliction, and so, with tears and ashes, they called upon the living God.
I praise the mourning women in the world today; those who have other vocations and roles, other jobs and talents, but who still function as a balm to those in need of care. On this Ash Wednesday, I thank the mourning woman who weeps on behalf of her bullied child. I thank the mourning woman whose door is open to those in need of counsel. I thank the mourning woman who is never too busy to pray for those in need, with tears shed for someone else. I thank the mourning woman who offers a kind word, even when her own heart is broken.
I offered blessings to people today after the imposition of ashes. My spirit sensed the heavy hearts of some; those struggling to enter into this Lenten season with a clean heart and a right spirit. To you I want to say: call on the mourning women in your life. Your burden is too heavy to bear alone.
Yolanda Pierce is an Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. She holds a Ph.D. and a M.A. degree from Cornell University and undergraduate degrees from Princeton University. Pierce’s research specialties include African American Religious History; Womanist Theology; African American Literature; and 19th Century American Culture.