Ash Wednesday

Remember thou art dust….

Today, we begin our journey with Jesus with the reminder that we are created out of nothing. Genesis tells us that God stooped down after the world’s creation, took the dust of creation, and formed humanity. All the other aspects of creation were spoken into existence by God, but the very hands of creation created humanity. After society was formed, God breathed the breath of life into humanity’s lungs, giving humanity life.

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a day to contemplate how we can spiritually improve our lives. Although today is a day to focus on what we have done and what we have left undone, it should not be a day we beat ourselves up. Repentance is not about what is in the past but rather the future and how we can live better for ourselves and others.

Smudging, or placing ashes on people’s heads, dates back to the 11th century. The ashes are from burning the left-over palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. This is a reminder of the cycle of death and resurrection and connects us spiritually to what has come before. Being covered in ashes was a sign of repentance, and smudging our foreheads reminds us of the need for repentance.

This idea of forgiveness has always been a part of the Season of Lent. In the Orthodox Christian Tradition, Lent begins with the Sunday of Forgiveness. A pilgrimage always begins with asking for forgiveness, and so at the start of Lent, Christians ask forgiveness not only from God but from each other, and the journey can begin with a clean slate, so to speak. There is something beautiful in participating in this forgiveness, standing before another, and asking for and granting forgiveness. It is a very healing process.

But we should not linger too long with this idea of dust, death, and repentance. We should constantly focus on the knowledge that God loves us and that our job is to bring that love into the world.

Lent is a perfect time for us to work on our spiritual lives, and we are reminded of this in the words from the service of the day, “I invite you to observe a holy Lent by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” Lent is the perfect time to start or restart the daily practice of reading Scripture and spend some time in prayer, even a few moments.

I know it can be hard to be joyful when you hear that you are dust and that we will, one day, return to dust. Dust gets a bad rap, and changing how we perceive what is being said can become positive rather than negative.

Deon Johnson is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Missouri. Each day, Bishop Johnson posts some inspirational quotes on his Facebook Page. Today, he posted about dust but not in the “remember you are going to die” sense of dust but in the Joni Mitchell “we are all stardust” sense. 

Here is what Bishop Johnson has to say:

Remember you are dust,
the substance of the stars, animated with the breath of life.
Uniquely formed in the image and likeness of Divine Love.
Authored in hope, forged in joy,
very good of very good,
no accident we,
this beloved quickened dust,
knit to love and be loved.
Remember you are dust.

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