Dust to Dust
It began again with Ash Wednesday. Maybe you had a chance to receive ashes on your forehead this year and maybe you didn't. This year I was reflecting a bit on the words we hear when the ashes are smoothed onto our brows: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Why are those words meaningful to us? What is it about ash on the forehead that nourishes our sense of self and our faith in God? I wonder about this every year—about that moment when we reckon with a stark-naked truth of being human, which is that our bodies are dust and that one day we will certainly die and to dust they will gradually return. Our culture’s instinct is to rebel against such an inconvenient truth. We avoid talking about death, we hurry others and ourselves through the grieving process, we put off difficult conversations.
But something happens in us when, with smudged foreheads, we acknowledge before God and one another that yes, one day we too shall become compost. Maybe a simple yet holy acknowledgement of our mortality deepens an awareness of our immortality. Perhaps our recognition of that which is finite leads us to consider that which is infinite. The words “you are dust” resonate with a hopeful suspicion we have that our worries, fears, and preoccupations are dust too—that the burdens of this life, heavy as they may be, will not ultimately outlast us.
Friends, this Lenten season, let remember that though we are dust, we are also much, much more than dust. We are spirit and commitment, bearers of hope and potential, children of the living God and citizens of an eternal, sacred kingdom. May our knowledge of that grace bring us through the ashes of Lent and empower us to approach the Easter cross with faith.