Ash Wednesday

Admin note: Ash Wednesday was this past week (February 17). The post could not be published due to technical issues related to the severe winter weather. My apologies.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. To many, Ash Wednesday seems like a terribly morbid day as we are marked with ashes and reminded that, “dust we are, and to dust we shall return”.  Most people spend immense amounts of time and money trying to outsmart that truth, or to pretend it isn’t true. In time, however, dust and ashes come to us all.  We are mortals, created for immortality, but not yet possessing it.
This week, here in Texas, we have had reminders of how fragile our mortal life really is.  As so many have been without power in zero degree temperatures for 30 hours or more, we realize that we can’t control so many things. We realize that we are utterly dependent upon the grace of God for every breath. We like to believe that we are taking care of ourselves, but, when our conveniences and structures fail, we realize it’s an illusion. The words of Henry Lyte in his hymn, Abide with Me, come to mind. “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, hope of the hopeless, O abide with me.”
Reminders of our mortality should increase our awareness of our dependence on God. This can be a builder of our faith. When we take away everything else we are tempted to trust, we understand that the Maker of the universe holds us in His hands.
I read a beautiful poem by Jan Richardson about ashes, which I will attach below. I was captured by the words, “what the Holy One can do with dust”. As we approach this Lenten season, I encourage each of us to embrace our mortality, to take on disciplines to draw us closer to God, and to fall into the arms of Him who created us—and everything else—from dust. What can God do with dust? Let’s trust Him and see!
Blessing the Dust For Ash Wednesday
“All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.”
—Jan Richardson
2016 update: “Blessing the Dust” appears in her book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. You can find the book here.

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