Drive evil thoughts and spirits far away; Master, watch o'er us till the dawning day, body and soul alike from harm defend, thine angel send.
- Petrus Herbert
I’ve been sitting here at my desk at work reading and rereading T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday.” I couldn’t help it.
It’s as beautiful a poem as it is hard to understand, and to me it was possibly most beautiful on about the third slow read, when I was familiar enough with the words not to stumble, but still couldn’t say exactly what he was talking about. That is, I couldn’t say exactly what he was talking about, but somehow I think my spiritual self was attune to its meaning.
“Ash Wednesday” is as much a prayer as a poem, I finally realized, where Eliot longs to live a spiritual life among the temptations of this world:
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Today, while I contemplate which siren song I will absolutely resist (at least!) for the duration of Lent, and try to choose the one temptation that makes me weakest spiritually, I pray the prayer of “Ash Wednesday.” I will sit still, in His will, and read “Ash Wednesday” just one more time. Then I’ll ask angels to pull me away and help me concentrate on my worldly work.
To hear T.S. Eliot recite “Ash Wednesday,” click here.
Colleen Hughes is the editor-in-chief of Angels on Earth. She's been at Guideposts for 20 plus years, and lives in a Hudson River town with her two daughters and two cats.