Imposition of Ashes and Other Impositions

Mar 5, 2013

Ever since Ash Wednesday I’ve been thinking about the word we use for having ashes smudged on our foreheads: the Imposition of Ashes. Dictionary.com defines imposition as: the laying on of something as a burden or obligation.

I have childhood memories–real or imagined–of my first hearing of the word imposition: My mother and my three-year old self toddle across our yard and driveway to the next door neighbor’s house. My mother knocks on the door of the little white bungalow and the sounds of eight to a dozen feet thunder to answer it–one pair belong to my best friend, Marian. The door opens and my mother says: “I hate to impose, Mrs. Lipinski, but may I borrow a cup of sugar?” “Come in, Mrs. Prouse, she says, it’s no imposition at all.” With five kids, Mrs. Lipinski (the formality between our mothers was never breached) is clearly familiar with impositions–burdens and obligations of all kinds. A cup of sugar is just a piece of cake for her.

Other than for Ash Wednesday, the word imposition is not part of my speaking lexicon. Mooch or pest are more likely the words I use when I ask for a cup of sugar. But as the word has nibbled on and noodled at me for the past couple of weeks, this thought comes uninvited, “Jesus is sure a capital “I” Imposition on my life.” Ouch! As I think about it, it is true. Jesus asks me to love my enemy, do good to those who spitefully use me, forgive 70×7 times, give to the poor, feed his sheep and on and on…. He burdens me with a new paradigm, a counter-cultural way to live. If that isn’t an imposition on my self-focus and self-serving self, I don’t what is.

Another thought also comes. “The impositions in my life are often the best things that happen to me.”–my spouse, my children, my work, Jesus. They move in, demand my time and smudge up the clean order of my life. But as they tie me up and burden me, these impositions also set me free. They challenge me to see the world and myself anew and to be new as wife, lover, mother, teacher, and disciple.