A blessed Ash Wednesday to you. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!
As you can no doubt tell, I enjoy a good cigar. I recognize that in this day, and age, enjoying a totally natural product produced from the “evil weed” is probably one of the few “vices” that are absolutely unacceptable in respectable society, but I have always been a bit of a contrarian.
I smoked my first real cigar at the tender age of 25 and found that I enjoyed it tremendously. Part of the enjoyment was the trip to the tobacconist’s shop, and the experience of being walked through the humidor and discussing the various options available for my palate. I also loved the ritual of lighting up, and the camaraderie I found amongst my fellow enthusiasts in that small tobacconist’s shop in Dayton, Ohio.
I was in seminary at that time, a student at United Theological Seminary, working on an MA in New Testament. I did not have much “walking around money”, but could always find a few shekels for a good cigar, and once a week would make the trek to the Boston Stoker on North Main. There I would read, or write, or more often end up in a far-ranging conversation with folks from all political, religious, and irreligious persuasions. There was never a dull moment, and though the conversations could get a bit heated, we all enjoyed each other’s company and the cigars we smoked together. Over the years, I added pipes and good English tobacco to my repertoire, but no matter the smoke, the conversations were the same. I do miss those days.
Hence the first purpose and name of this blog, as I need a place to have a good conversation that is centered on a common identity. While, I will probably discuss the “evil weed” from time to time, the common identity here is a love of Jesus and a commitment to be a faithful disciple. I invite you to join me on that journey.
The second reason for the name is that a humidor is capable of keeping a cigar fresh for an indeterminate amount of time, and allowing it to age to perfection. I have cigars in my humidor that are fifteen years old, and are as fresh as the day I bought them, but have matured, aged, “gotten better” over the years. I think the historic faith of the Church in many ways is like the humidor in that it keeps us fresh and helps us to mature in Christ. I suppose, we could also be likened unto the humidor, as we keep the faith fresh, but I probably should not push the analogy to its limits.
Why is it appropriate to begin on Ash Wednesday? Well, let me tell you a story.
I recently enjoyed a very special cigar as I was working my way through a demanding text. I was alone, and thought it a good day to dive into my reserve. That particular cigar was a Tatuaje robusto, and it has been aging for four years and was a thoroughly delightful creamy smoke. In fact, I delighted in this cigar so much, that I closed the book and just enjoyed the experience of the taste, the smell, and watching the smoke curl toward the ceiling and fill the room with its aroma. It tasted of heavy cream, cinnamon, clove, and a slight hint of pepper. The room note reminded me of “Blanc” incense. So, I just sat back and relaxed, and tried to make it last as long as possible.
Unfortunately, as with all good cigars, at the end of the hour there was just a pile of ash left in the tray, and a memory of that smoke upon my taste buds. I was sorely tempted to open the box and smoke another, but realized that would not be a wise decision, and looked with a bit of melancholy at the remains of what had been a great cigar, and was not but just a memory. This is the fate of all cigars, and pipe tobacco, no matter how expensive, how great, how cheap, or how terrible, all of them become just a pile of ash at the end of the day. They burn up, they burn out, and they are no more than a memory.
Is that not the lesson of Ash Wednesday? We are all destined to be just like that great cigar. No matter our station in life, rich/poor, wise/foolish, Republican/Democrat, beautiful/homely, or any other label, we are all destined to become nothing but a pile of ash. We will die. This is not because we are “used up”, but because of the effects of Sin. As the Good Book says, “The wages of sin is death”, and we all get paid.
However, this is what makes the Christian faith different; we have hope beyond the ashy-ness of our existence. Because of Christ: his Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, we have hope that this mortal body, though used up and ashy, will be raised and made new. Because of Christ: death is not the end, and those who are found in Him will be raised like him.
On this day, when we remember our mortality, our common destiny to be put a pile of ash, let us repent and return to the Lord who will raise a pile of ash to new life.
May you have blessed Ash Wednesday.