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Color in the Ashes

Danny Gregory’s, A Kiss before You Go, is an illustrated novel. Are you familiar with this genre? I was first introduced to this idea by a colleague and friend at the University of Virginia. While I love words because they can paint pictures in my mind, illustrated novels literally include pictures and graphics! For example:

Danny Gregory


On this particular page, Gregory is thinking about his son, Jack, and specifically how the child is dealing with the death of his mother. The author gives us a window into his mind, not just his thoughts, but a physical description. The picture shows his posture as he wrote about his son, the body language conveying a sense of his struggle. The words inspire the drawing; the drawing interprets the words. The back and forth is insightful.

I was thinking about this last night, as I dipped my fingers into a mixture of olive oil and ash, and drew images of the cross across the foreheads of those gathered for our Ash Wednesday service. “You are made of dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are meaningful words by themselves, but all the more powerful as they are illustrated by the stark lines on different faces, the ash contrasting and complementing with certain pigments, shifted and re-arranged by lines of age, perhaps despair or even regret. But also joy. We are illustrated works of art, the lessons of life written on our faces. Sometimes ash can throw such realities into relief on the canvas of skin.

In A Kiss Before You Go, Danny Gregory struggles to deal with the loss of his wife in a tragic accident. He copes by drawing. Prior to her death, his journal was full of black and white lines, words that he had written. In his grief, he began to sprinkle in pictures and, just as importantly, use color. In this interview, Gregory informs us that Patti loved color, especially pink. So adding such art to his words was not only a tribute, but (dare I say it) a move towards some kind of redemption. Gregory notes that, even in his sadness and loss, he tries to see the beauty all around him.

I’m not sure there is a better message for Lent. May we, too, see the color mixed in with the ashes.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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