A rich man's wife became sick. When her death was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside. She said, "Dear child, remain pious and good, and then our dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you." With this, she closed her eyes and died.
The girl went out to her mother's grave every day and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came, the snow spread a white cloth over the grave, and when the spring sun had removed it again, the man took himself another wife. This wife brought two daughters into the house with her. They were beautiful, with fair faces, but evil and dark hearts. Times soon grew very bad for the poor stepchild.
"Why should that stupid goose sit in the parlor with us?" they said. "If the girl wants to eat bread, then she will have to earn it. Out with this kitchen maid!"
They took her beautiful clothes away from her, dressed her in an old gray robe, and gave her wooden shoes. "Just look at the proud princess! How decked out she is!" they shouted and laughed as they led her into the kitchen.
There she had to do hard work from morning until evening, get up before daybreak, carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. Besides this, the sisters did everything imaginable to hurt her. They made fun of her, scattered peas and lentils into the ashes for her so that she had to sit and pick them out again. In the evening when she had worked herself weary, there was no bed for her. Instead, she had to sleep by the hearth in the ashes.
The above story tells the ashes to riches story. Ella, the main character of the story, is determined to "remain pious and good.” In her attempts to follow her mother's teaching, she is forced by her new stepsisters to sleep by the hearth in the ashes where she picks up the name "Cinder" Ella.
Cinderella’s ashes were the product of burning something away. They were left after fire passed over or through the wood to cook. They represented the waste after the heat and light were gone. Humbled beside the cold, dirty hearth, Cinderella faces meanness and injustice, but finds friends and remains faithful in the face of adversity. And, as we all know, her arduous journey ends as she tries on the glass slipper and she's reunited with the prince.
Perhaps our first association with ashes is not from a fairytale but from childhood where we watched a parent carry out the ashes from the fireplace on a cold winter's morning. After the fire had warmed the house, the ashes were useless and disposed of as trash.
Today, February 14 is Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras where we turn away from excess to a time of spring-cleaning of our souls. It’s a threshold moment that begins a 40-day reminder that the world that seems so important to us at this moment is passing and we need to give more thought to an eternal perspective that’s much bigger than ourselves.
The odd ritual of smearing ashes on people’s forehead highlights Ash Wednesday. Yes, you heard me correctly; the ceremony is spreading ashes on people! And now you’re probably wondering why in the world do we put leftover "trash" on our foreheads to start the season of Lent? One reason is that the ashes are symbols to remind us of who we are. And though the Bible doesn’t mention Ash Wednesday or Lent, it does suggest people mourning in sackcloth and ashes during times of disappointing news, death, tragedy, and crisis.
The Bible also talks about turning away from our self-centeredness towards the ways of God and abstaining from the things that keep us disconnected from God. Similarly, the number 40 is prominent in various biblical events, including raining for 40 days and 40 nights, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, and Jesus’ temptations in the desert over 40 days. So the daily acts of turning away from our need to be in control to connect with God over a 40-day span is a spiritual practice that helps us create our ashes to riches story.
From this perspective, the Cinderella’s story is the ashes to riches story and a metaphor that helps us on a journey that begins on Ash Wednesday that meanders towards Easter. Her suffering in the ashes helps to shape her into a better person. She wears the heavy boots before the glass slipper.
Our ashes may represent setting side a time to change our patterns. Each of us suffers from the ashes of unnecessary spending, greed, prejudices, negativity, selfishness, complaining, procrastination, and resentment and we need God’s help. They may be just a few ashes, but they sure do mean a lot as they represent the willingness to change our ways and follow God's path.
On the Journey,