Thursday, March 3, 2022

SOL 3/31 & SJT: Memories and Ashes

It's Spiritual Journey Thursday, a open gathering for bloggers who write monthly about spiritual topics.  Ruth is our host for this month and invited us to write about ashes because yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Her post includes a poem she wrote in 2018, "Ashes."

In keeping with my theme of mining memories for this month of slicing daily, I return to 1982 and step into the shoes of my 27 year old teacher self, newly married (actually just one week before school started),  and with a new job teaching Language Arts and Social Studies at Monte Cassino, an all girls middle school located in midtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. I remember being given two pieces of advice from a colleague who was not Catholic: "Don't trip over the students when you go to chapel each week because they will genuflect before entering the pew. And never try to wipe the smudge off your students' foreheads on Ash Wednesday." And that was my first introduction to Ash Wednesday.

Several additional memories come to mind from the two years that I taught at Monte Cassino.

The first occurred in December of that first year when Martha Embry introduced me to a tradition the teachers shared. We would meet at one home and bake for the entire evening. At the end of the evening, we would divide the fruits of our labors and everyone would go home with an assortment of holiday goodies. While the baking was fun and the goodies were appreciated, the real joy came from spending time together out of our school setting. 

The next memory occurred as we went to Mass weekly. I enjoyed the time to be quiet and reflective (and I never once tripped over a student). But my favorite part of weekly mass was the music. One of our teachers, Debbie Verssen played the guitar and led our singing. I can still hear her crystal clear soprano voice leading us in "Morning Has Broken."

And her beautiful voice leads me to my third memory, a holiday party at Mr. Peter's home, our middle school headmaster. We gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols and Debbie added her angelic descant to our rendition of several carols. Sister Joachim, the aged librarian and the lone nun in the middle school, accompanied us on the piano. (We had an ongoing row because Sister Joachim wanted me to read more nonfiction and biographies instead of the novels that I always gravitated to on the library shelves.) It didn't take long for us to wander from Christmas carols to show tunes since Sister Joachim could play any song requested. I still remember her look of amusement when I requested "I Cain't Say No" from the musical Oklahoma! But she played it and we sang along.

Returning to our spiritual journey theme about ashes, I share this scripture from Isaiah 61:3:  "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."

As we think about the current world situation, we mourn and feel the spirit of heaviness for those in Ukraine. You might want to read Kate Bowler's "a blessing for Ukraine." (And her free reflection guide for Lent can be accessed here.)

This is my eleventh year of participating in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. This year I'll be mining my memories for stories to share.


  1. What a lovely collection of memories. The collective baking spoke to me. Your post is also like you baked many cakes and the readers can take a piece of each with them. At the times like these we need togetherness, poetry, and perhaps some baking.

  2. The nun playing Ado Annie! Priceless. The story of the baking gathering reminds me why I'm starting down the path to become a certified teacher -- the community! Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories with us!

  3. Such a powerful collection of memories. I too thought of those in Ukraine on Ash be honest they are the center of my thoughts and prayers every day. Thanks for sharing and making me think.

  4. Ramona, your project on recalling memories is always delivered with details and facts that are just one more drop in the bucket of life. They are rich and interesting slices. "And never try to wipe the smudge off your students' foreheads on Ash Wednesday." I also wrote about this experience in my slice/SJT piece today. It is a real fact from Catholic childhood. I took your advice and looked up Kate Bowler. I enjoyed her writing so much that I signed up for her Lenten devotional and even took a glimpse. Your link opened a new door for me so thank you, friend.

  5. Lovely to see you writing again. I love the reflections from teaching. So fun to think back on those times. Nice like to Ash Wednesday as well.

  6. It's fun to meet read new slicers, but I also love, love, love coming back to my old friends. Hoping we will see a grandparent post soon. I'll bet they are getting big!

  7. Ramona, thank you for these sweet memories. I should write a post of wonderful memories from my seven years at a small Catholic school in Iowa. Thank you for the links on Kate Bowler's site too.