Eating Ashes

I experienced a lot of grief last year.  A lot of people I care about died.  It’s been a struggle to stay positive light of the stark realization that everyone dies.  I hold on to my faith in life after death, but in times of temptation (if that’s what it is), everything seems lifeless, and I’ve had my fair share of those time over the last year.

There’s a passage from the Psalms that describes this whole experience perfectly: “I have eaten ashes as bread, and mingled my drink with weeping” (Psalm 102:9).  I often think of temptation as a battle – a fiery struggle fought with passion.  But it’s not always like that.  Sometimes it’s like eating ashes.  There’s really no better way to put it.  The other day I was shoveling the ashes out of the fireplace, and thinking that there’s nothing that seems more lifeless than ashes – gray, white, dusty and dry.  In dark times, everything tastes like ashes.  The sadness isn’t the hard part – it’s the deadness, the dryness, the grayness.

The book Prophets and Psalms, a rough manuscript published after Swedenborg’s death, gives an internal sense for the first 11 verses of this Psalm: “A prayer of the Lord when He was in temptations even to despair, which state is described.”  In the deepest sense these words describe the Lord’s experience.

That gives me comfort.  The Lord went through times of “eating ashes.”  It’s part of life.  It is something that happens.  The world hasn’t broken – this is part of it, and this has always been part of it.  And the Lord came through it, and He is carrying me through it.  On gray days, it gives me hope that warmth and love and light are real things, and that I will experience them again.

About Coleman Glenn

I'm a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister and Patheos blogger (
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3 Responses to Eating Ashes

  1. Lori says:

    These feelings are so real. Thank you for putting them in words….
    I was looking at the website for the new Musical Instruments Museum and enjoying all it had to say about music being able to express those feelings we all share, whatever culture, that are beyond words. Music goes a long way to helping deal with sadness, grief, joy, love….

  2. Alison says:

    Thank you.

    I often think about the fact that not only did the Lord go through times of “eating ashes”, He still watches us as we suffer when a friend dies, or when we are choosing stupid or hurtful behaviors. He doesn’t struggle with leaving us in freedom, but picturing the immense love He is feeling for us, and the entire human race, is an amazing reminder of a loving, human God!

  3. Dr Karen says:

    For me, going through difficult times is made a little easier by knowing that the flip side of temptation and struggle is growth. In every living system, growth is accompanied by instability and turbulence — we have to get shaken out of our comfortable (or at least familiar) stable places to make the jump to a different way of thinking or feeling or being. That’s just the physics behind the kind of complex systems we are…

    So yes, I agree that pain and discomfort are just part of life — and a part that can contribute to our spiritual regeneration — the good with the bad.

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