As we face our own mortality, it can be scary…ominous even. But I think we need it. In this crazy, busy culture we need 40 days to contemplate, pray, and take a step out of the routine. It is in Ash Wednesday that we are called upon to pause and reflect. “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” Mary Oliver says about this life “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Ash Wednesday gives us the chance to question our priorities, our motivations, and our own sinfulness. Dust to dust.
Here’s an old, cute story:
A little boy came home from Sunday school and went into his room to change his clothes. When he emerged he asked his mother, “Is it true we come from dust?”
“Yes, sweetie,” replied his mother, a knowledgeable and deeply religious woman. “That’s absolutely right.”
“Is it true that when we die we go back to the dust?”
“Yes, dear, that’s right. Why all these questions?”
The little boy ran into his room and came out all excited.
“Mom, I just looked under my bed and there’s someone either coming or going!”
It doesn’t have to be scary. There’s beauty in that the great God of the universe breathed us into life and then because he defeated sin and death, they no longer bind us, even if when we return to dust. We know that we’re going to return to dust sooner or later. It’s how we live our lives that matters. I like how Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran priest, explains Ash Wednesday, “If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and us not knowing what the distance is between the two, well then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and then held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. With these ashes, it is as though the water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the future to meet us here today. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God. Promises which outlast our piety, outlast our efforts in self-improvement, outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.” Promises that tell us if we run fast enough, we just might outrun death. Say no to the fancy, shiny, new, plastic things of this world and hold tight to the true promises of God.
You see Lent is a time in which we’re seeing our own mortality clearly in our failings, in our sins, but that only points us still more to the One who never fails us and scatters our sins from the east to the west. Ann Voskamp says this about giving things up for Lent, “I can’t seem to follow through in giving up for Lent. Which makes me want to just give up Lent. Which makes me question Who I am following. Which may precisely be the point of Lent.” If you’re following Jesus that is the only thing that matters. Hear me again, if you’re following Jesus that’s the ONLY thing that matters. If you put your trust in yourself, in your own goodness, or in your ability to exercise self-control than you’re bound for disappointment, however, Jesus will never disappoint.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to give up something or add spiritual practices like a daily quiet time or writing things that you are thankful for or fasting one day a week. Those are all great additions. Giving things up like chocolate, caffeine, or social media is meant to symbolize when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. Adding things is just what we need before Easter and maybe they will turn into habits. Just by being intentional this Lenten season, you are practicing a “Holy Lent.”
Jo Ann Staebler in her book “Soul Fast,” says, “In the deep stillness of prayer my soul fasts. Fasting, at its heart, is turning away from what keeps me from God. Two things I must leave: the walls I build around the space that was made to be God’s dwelling; the absurdities I keep in that space, so jealously hoarded. Taking down the wall that protects the false self I have been building, all these years…risking exposure, emptiness, loneliness. The fast is silence, ocean-deep and prolonged. Shard by shard, the wall begins to fall. Inch by inch, the space clears, and Love lights the shadows. I come unprotected, and learn that God alone is safety. I come unaccompanied, and find that Christ alone is Friend. I come hungry, and receive the only food that satisfies. In letting go is abundance. In emptying I am filled. This is not denial, but freedom. Fast is feast.”
It doesn’t matter to me what you do, I just want you to be intentional in this Lenten ritual. As most things in life, what you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it. It’s only a tool, a ritual, to draw us closer to Jesus when *WE’RE* deep in the wilderness of life.
Hear these powerful words from the artist and poet, Jan Richardson, in her poem “Blessing the Dust,”
All those days
you felt like dust,
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
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
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
God can work wonders from dust. God made you in your mother’s womb. Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made — the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place — what are human beings that you think about them . . . that you pay attention to them?”
God can do mighty things through us. Our Rabbi Jesus can lead us to do some crazy, awesome things as we follow his teachings. The Holy Spirit can fan the fire to make diamonds out of dust. God can take your one, wild and precious life and work wonders out of it.
I will say while putting ashes on your forehead.
“God can work wonders with dust.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Amen.”
- I read many commentaries, blogs, articles to gather these quotes including this one not directly quoted: http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2015/2/18/ash-wednesday-meditation.
One thought on “God works wonders from dust…”
Beautiful! Thanks for this. Our family is traveling and couldn’t make it to an AW service. This reflection has fed my soul tonight. Thank you and thanks be to God.