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Faith Matters: Ashes and Whales – Lent Begins Again

  • The Rev. Dr. Susan Tarolli is the interim minister at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Second Congregational Church on Court Square in Greenfield. Staff file photo/Paul Franz

Interim Minister, Second Congregational Church
Published: 3/6/2020 2:59:57 PM
Modified: 3/6/2020 2:59:42 PM

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email

“You are God’s beloved dust and to God’s beloved dust you shall return. May you embrace the gift of life.”

With these words, I marked and blessed the faithful who gathered in the sanctuary of Second Congregational Church on Ash Wednesday. We shared a sacred pause in that sacred space. It may not have been as convenient as the increasingly popular “drive-thru ashes,” but I, for one, appreciated the quiet moments of reflection I spent among the faithful, as we entered into the annual recalibration that comes with Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

For me, Lent is a time when I feel the greatest kinship with Jesus. As a faithful Jew, Jesus was led into the wilderness to pray and to fast. Then, in the midst of seeking personal and intimate communion with God, he faced great trial and tribulation, wrestled with demons and confronted taunts and temptations.

We all know temptation. We’ve all been taunted by the voice of the tempter sitting on our shoulder as we make decisions about what we put in our bodies, how we spend the resources of our time and money, or what the best strategy is for solving the crises in our world. We fall down the rabbit hole of “researching” Coronavirus, political candidates or the fate of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. We get seduced by the desires to always be right, to not show our vulnerabilities, to express our anger or frustration with a look or a gesture instead of taking the time and risk required for talking it out. We “jump on the band wagon” before we know where it’s going. We stand on the sidelines so we “don’t make waves.” And we speak before we listen — to others, ourselves, or our Higher Power. We opt for what’s familiar or easy, when stretching or sacrificing could change us or someone else for the better.

The layers of expectation, preservation and presentation that we formulate and accumulate over time can become unwieldy. The annual reminder that we are God’s beloved dust and to God’s beloved dust we shall return is an invitation to sort through the layers of human construction that often separate and distract us from our essential selves.

I am reminded of Moby Dick’s hold on Captain Ahab. The great, white sperm whale assaulted and eluded the whaling captain once, and Ahab was determined to prevail in his quest for revenge. The temptation to succeed in proving his dominance was so encompassing, he risked the lives of his crew members. He failed to see the awesome wonder and beauty of the places around the world where he sailed. He dismissed fellow whalers and sailors he met along the way if they did not contribute to his obsessive mission. The temptation to win at all costs ended with tragic loss.

Lent is a time to recognize the whales in our lives. What are the constructs in our lives — real or imagined — that taunt us into being a version of ourselves that we are uncomfortable with? How did we become someone who is so focused on an elusive goal that we miss out on people and places that could bless us during this fleeting earthly sojourn?

It’s that time of year. Release the whales. Set aside that which clutters the way into Love. Begin again.

About Second Congregational Church

The Rev. Dr. Susan Tarolli is the interim minister with Second Congregational Church of Greenfield, United Church of Christ, located on Court Square. Communal worship is at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings, with opportunities for centering prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Striving to contribute to building God’s beloved community, Second Congregational partners with local organizations to help meet the needs of the underserved in Greenfield. Second Congregational is an Open and Affirming congregation, welcoming all people to participate in the full life, mission, and ministry of the congregation. For more information, e-mail or call the church at or 413-774-4355.

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