Updated: Mar 1, 2022
On Ash Wednesday we begin our forty-day journey toward Easter with a day of fasting and repentance. Marking our foreheads with dust, we acknowledge that we die and return to the earth. At the same time, the dust traces the life-giving cross indelibly marked on our foreheads at baptism. While we journey through Lent to return to God, we have already been reconciled to God through Christ. We humbly pray for God to make our hearts clean while we rejoice that “now is the day of salvation.” Returning to our baptismal call, we more intentionally bear the fruits of mercy and justice in the world. (“Introduction to Ash Wednesday.” Sundays and Seasons, 2022)
For most of the summers I was a pastor in Colorado, I would take Confirmation age youth to a Lutheran camp in the mountains. In the early years, my daughter was too young to attend as a camper so she’d tag-along aside me for the week.
We had a break in the schedule one afternoon so I took her for a walk that led us to a prayer labyrinth. McKenna skipped around the labyrinth, hustling to the middle faster than most would take this path. The mountain winds had increased, and she saw tiny ground clouds of dust blowing up from the ground.
Before I could stop her, she scooped up a handful of dust with bare hands and thrust it high into the air above her. The dust blew about before falling to the ground. Before I could warn her to stop for fear that dust was going to get in someone’s eyes, she did it again. This time, she exclaimed with breathless delight, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!”
The irony of her joy at such a thought gave me pause. We think of Ash Wednesday with an air of solemnity, but what if we approached it with joy?
We are bits of holy dust, created and formed and given breath and life and meaning. We can take delight in God, our Creator, who shapes us and forms us and gives us life.
Through Christ, we learn that God who gives us life also redeems it. If God can create something out nothing, God can raise up life from that which has died.
We are sustained by the Spirit to live in joy for the cycle of birth, death, and re-birth…renewal…resurrection. Birth and death are not just a one-time moment. It’s a daily process. It’s a life journey of repeated experiences we learn along the way.
Indeed, we can be joyful that the dust blowing all around us is holy dust. Dust from the past, dust that will blow into the future, dust that will nurture life that grows within it, and dust that will rise again.
Dear friends, my holy dusty friends, may the Holy Spirit blow our acts of fasting, repentance, prayer and almsgiving to wherever they might land, trusting that each act of love and hope is something God purposes to meaning and joy around us.