To Care and Not to Care With Lent approaching, I decided to reach back into the memory banks and draw upon T.S. Eliot, the famous poet, and one of his more religious poems. Written shortly after Eliot converted to Anglicanism, “Ash Wednesday” finds the poet musing about time, suffering, and God, usual issues to pause over during Lent. Eliot often repeats lines and phrases, structurally connecting the poem with the liturgy. The poem begins with this stanza, and the phrase “I do not hope to turn again” appears repetitively throughout the poem: Because I do not hope to turn again Because I do not hope Because I do not hope to turn Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope I no longer strive to strive towards such things (Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?) Why should I mourn The vanished power of the usual reign? Here, Eliot expresses his desire to not go back to the ways things were before, an endless striving after “this man’s gift and that man’s scope,” or, as Johnny Cash put it last week, an “empire of dirt.” Yet, his fallen nature continues to be drawn back to that way of life, “the usual reign.” As people living in a fallen world, this idea should be easy for us to grasp—it’s the quick word in anger, the subtle maneuvering for power, the refusal to extend grace, etc. As much as we may not want a life predicated on “the usual reign,” it’s far too easy to forget that its power does not ultimately lay claim to us, leaving us to attempt to climb the ladder of this world. Near the end of the poem, Eliot returns to a phrase (“teach us to care and not to care”) from the first part of the poem: Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still Even among these rocks, Our peace in His will … And let my cry come to Thee. This idea of caring and not caring seems to me to be integral to Lent and our attitudes during it. We should care about our sinfulness, but simultaneously we should not care, because we’ve been forgiven. In a slightly different form, Eliot is talking about the same thing as Martin Luther’s idea of the Christian as simul justus et peccator (both righteous and sinner at the same time). Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, serves to remind us of our mortality and propensity to sin, but we do so with the understanding that we have been redeemed. We learn to care and not to care. Lent, then, like much of Christianity contains an irreducible paradox: sorrow and joy, inseparable. Sorrow over the many ways we’ve fallen short, but joy in the work of Christ. Sorrow in the recognition of our death, but joy in the knowledge of Christ’s resurrection. The ashes that will cross our brows on Wednesday symbolize death and mortality, but let us not forget that without ashes, there would be nothing for the phoenix to rise from.