This year Ash Wednesday meets us with a level of welcome I cannot remember in my lifetime. The sobering refrain, remember you are dust and to dust you shall return, cuts through every and any claim of personal or social sovereignty. We all have the same beginning and will arrive at the same end.
I am just as much a collection of dust as those at the head of a nation. You are just as much dust as your closest friend and most feared foe. We are all dust and to dust we shall all return.
A few other musings on this first day of Lent.
We are all complicit.
The call to a season of prayer laced in confession is not solely a means to identify the social sins of systems, institutions, and powers that be. There is an urgent place for this; Lent for too long was primarily about personal piety. Yet, we miss the point if we close our conscience to how each and every one of us is complicit in varied distortions of what it means to love God and neighbor and to live into God's dreams for a world just and whole. Lent dares us to be leary of exposing the splinters in the eyes of another without awareness of the planks in our own retinas. This is a liturgical gift in a world bent on finger pointing, wall-constructing, blame shifting, wedge driving, and enemy making rhetoric unable to usher in an alternative reality to what we know is not even close to good enough. When we acknowledge each of us contributes to the problem, only then can we work towards preferred solutions and reformations.
We are all limited dependents.
Each Ash Wednesday, we reclaim and reaffirm the creation narrative of God making humanity from the dirt only then to breathe life into the nostrils. We are dependent creatures whose existence is a gift and preservation an act of grace.* This dependency assures us none of us alone can save the world from the chaos that is. We can merely play our part alongside fellow image bearers and light sharers and rest in rhythm, too. And rest indeed. Play, too. Resistance cannot be fueled on the fumes of those naive to their own limitations and humanity. Which is why the Resurrection story at the end of the 40 Days is so critical- deliverance over death is not our achievement but God’s forward looking and leading gift to all of humanity.
We are all finite.
Finitude does not have to be despairing. Instead, the temporal nature of our existence liberates us to prioritize the holy and give preference to the most sacred. We are reminded no person or empire has escaped an end; all are subject to finitude. Which means we are to refuse to allow even the most unjust powers to rob us of the joy of living as much as it is in our ability to do so. Turn off the news and spend time with your children. Get off the mobile device and go for a run. Read a novel. Play an instrument. Eat. Drink. Be Merry. Celebrate love the best and most intimate way you know how. Invite a stranger to be a guest at dinner. Refuse to allow despair to claim the blip of time called your life. Lenten tradition reserved Sundays as a break from the forty-day fast. This is largely the reason.
We are all from goodness.
Remember you are dust, to dust you shall return. At first glimpse there is an absence of love and hope. Then we dig into the creation narrative and remember humanity was birthed out of the land God called good. Dust is both the beginning and remnant of what was once good. To be marked with the dusty cross each Ash Wednesday is to confess a collective call to return to the goodness from our shared beginnings. To taste the ash as it it falls from our face is to remember that even out of the ash God can and will resurrect new life and make all whole again. It is as if we should say, remember you were created out of goodness and to goodness we will all return.
Blessed Ash Wednesday. May your Lent be a sobering holiness.
*As Karl Barth once wrote, “If [God] loves us; if He has preferred our being to our not-being; our loveableness to our unloveableness that is for us the ever-wonderful dynamic of His love. For it is grace not nature” (Church Dogmatics II.1, p. 281).