Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blood and Dust

I gave blood today for the first time since before becoming pregnant with Kate. My father and his mother are/were big blood donors, and after 9/11, I overcame my fear and became a donor myself. My iron is sometimes too low and I get deferred, and I almost always get warm and lightheaded and have to lay back and put my feet up. And I hate squeezing the stress ball every ten seconds, because it makes the skin on my arm tug uncomfortably around the needle. But still, it's an important thing to do, if you can, so I do.

Giving blood is a sacramental act, in a way--the shedding of one's blood for the benefit of others, to save others' lives. Since it happened to be Ash Wednesday, I was determined to see the theological significance linking this act and the act of receiving a cross of ashes on my head this evening.

The imparting of blood... the imposition of ashes...

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return..."

I always love Ash Wednesday, and find such meaning in that reminder of our own impermanence. Coupled with the themes of penitence and self-sacrifice, the imposition of ashes reminds me of our seeming insignificance before God. And yet, as the psalmist says "what is man that you are mindful of him?" In a great, big universe, we seem very small, and yet God loves and cares for us.

I am dust, and yet I gave part of my body away today. I am theoretically nothing, and yet I am something to whomever receives that life-saving fluid. I am broken and flawed, and yet God says I have something to give. This paradox embodies the lesson I take from today:

that my body--my life--is worth nothing unless I give it away.

Here are links to my other posts on self-denial, if Ash Wednesday puts you in a beautifully-melancholy mood, as it does me:
Worlds Apart from December 2007
Dust from last Ash Wednesday, itself a reprint from July 2006 and (according to Google Analytics) one of the most-read posts in The Parsonage Family history.


SpeasHill said...

I take great comfort in being "dust" and returning to it. To me, it doesn't mean that I am "theoretically nothing" - it means that I am something...something real and natural and beautiful and no more special than any thing else on this earth...but something real, nonetheless.

And as the mother of a child who received 23 transfusions (I actually counted them on her medical record the other day!), I also take great comfort in the fact that people like you give blood! Thanks!

amy said...

Thanks, Jessica, for that post. I also donated today (though platelets, not whole blood) and participated in an Ash Wednesday service. I had not taken time to consider any link between the two of them. I appreciated your perspective.

(And, as a side note, I hate the squeezing part, too.)

Katie Bug said...

I really enjoyed this post, as well as your older Ash Wednesday post. As someone who has always attended non-liturgical churches, I have only recently begun to recognize the meaning and value of such holy days. I have definitely missed out on a lot of beauty, reflection, and connection to other believers. Hopefully I can ensure that my daughter doesn't miss out on the same.
I also loved your statement that our lives mean nothing unless we give them away. How true!

Matt @ The Church of No People said...

I've always been resistant to giving blood for my own discomfort with needles, but I've never thought of it as sacramental. Maybe I should!


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