|New York Public Library Digital Collections|
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and like most parishes, the homily probably mentioned ashes a time or three. At St. Joe's (otherwise known as St. Joseph's), our priest talked about how worthless they are. In fact, if you wanted them just about anyone with a fireplace would probably let you take them and good riddance. Me, being the domestic history geek that I am, that got me to thinking about lye. To make lye you literally leach it from ashes using water. Lye, even today (though not as often) is a key ingredient in soap making. Many a Mamaw and Gran'ma used those worthless ol' ashes from the fireplace just for that purpose. Lye is powerful stuff. What we leave behind on this earth in the hearts and minds of those that knew us is even more powerful. Lye will burn your skin, cause respiratory problems and damage eyes if used carelessly, yet when you add oils and fats it becomes safe. Soap has allowed humans to combat dirt, disease, and made life safer for mankind. Now, what is left from the ashes of our lives? Well, that depends entirely on the life we lived. We have either helped or we have hurt mankind. If we followed God and ran the good race then those we leave behind will benefit. They will have learned to leach the hard times, the suffering times, with life-giving water. They will have all they need to mix the healthy fats and oils from their own lives (God's blessings) with the lessons of lye. They will make soap. In choosing not to follow God we've not given them the tools they need. They won't know, from us, how to use living water, sacramental oil, and beneficial fats to make the worthless things in life the strongest and most beneficial things. They won't know how to make soap...at least not from us.