As a community minister, part of the rhythm of my weeks is working at my friend’s goat farm on Wednesdays. These are my reflections as I worked on Ash Wednesday this week.
I’m shoveling out a goat barn. I’m pitchfork-shoveling out a goat barn and thinking about ashes, and earth, and muck, and mud. I’m thinking about the traditional words of Ash Wednesday, “remember you are ashes, and to ashes you shall return.”
Mostly I’m thinking about muck. With the big snows we’ve had lately, the muck is even muckier than usual. It never ends, you know. The muck.
We come from this, too, don’t we? I’m shoveling and thinking about how we come from this stuff that is caked on my knees from holding yearling kids as we adjusted their collars. We come from this stuff, too.
And I don’t really mean that we’re muck because we’re sinners. Just that we’re elemental. We’re made of the stuff of the earth. Like this muck is the stuff of the earth.
And I’m shoveling and I stretch and the spring-hinting wind cools off my February sweat and yes, we are this too. We are made of the stuff of the earth.
Air, this wind, this labored pitchfork breath, these snuffle-kisses and welcoming bleats from the goats.
Fire, these aching muscles, this anointing of goat tails and rooster combs with healing salve, this sky ablaze as the sun sets over the mountains.
Water, these slick snow-muddy rivulets running downhill, these geese Fred and George splashing with delight, these water buckets filling and spilling so no one thirsts.
Earth, this grounded animal love, these mountains, these deer leaping into the pasture, and yes, this unending muck.
We are elemental. We are made from all this. Air, Fire, Water, Earth. The stuff of the earth, of creation. Sacred.
We are the stuff of the earth. Earthy, muddy, breathy bodies that stretch and love and creak and sing…and that have limits. Our bodies break. Our hearts break. As I take a moment to rest I think about our fleshy bodies and their limits. We are not robots or machines whose only purpose is to produceproduceproduce. We are fleshy, tender beings here to love, here to be in awe, here to shovel out a goat’s barn so they have a clean place to sleep.
The goats and chickens and geese are in bed, and I’m sore. I drive down the mountain back into town. I’m thinking about muck and about ashes on my forehead. I need those ashes on my forehead today, marking me, reminding me, that I am elemental. I am a tender, fleshy, elemental human being. Sacred.
I pull into the parking lot of my partner’s church and text her. I smell strongly of barnyard, so she comes outside, and under the light of the waxing crescent moon, she offers me the elements, bread and juice, and then marks my forehead with ashes.
She uses the traditional words. In my elemental body, though, I hear, “Remember you are muck, and to muck you shall return.”
Rev. Anne Dunlap is an ordained United Church of Christ minister serving as a “street pastor” for racial justice and solidarity in the Denver, CO area. Rev. Dunlap is committed to the work of collective liberation, working in freedom movements with folks across race, gender, and class lines for more than 25 years, with a particular passion for solidarity with Black, immigrant, worker, and indigenous communities. Anne also serves as adjunct faculty at the Iliff School of Theology, and loves herbal practice, tending goats, and hanging out with friends and her beloved of over 20 years.