Lenten thoughts

Lent has always been a part of the rhythm of my life. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and always loved watching the unfolding of the liturgical year. I loved watching the colors change on the table and priest’s outer garments. I loved greeting each season’s special music and prayers. I didn’t even mind so much when favorite ones would pass, because there was always the reassuring comfort that they’d be back next year at the appointed time.

As adults, we’ve found ourselves in congregations of other denominations that carried on a few of these traditions, some that rejected them strongly, and some that enjoyed the changing of the seasons, but with a different flavor and emphasis. This year we find ourselves worshiping in a congregation that enthusiastically marks the time as the church year progresses, and to me it feels a little bit like coming home.

We celebrated Ash Wednesday at a noon time service and participated in the imposition of ashes…a first for everyone but myself and my sister, and it had been many many moons since my last time. As the ashes were marked on our heads, theses words were spoken: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I know it’s a simple statement, but it’s been hanging around in my mind since that Wednesday.  What does it mean to remember that I’m dust? That everyone around me is dust? That our days are numbered and we will be returned to the dust in just a little while?

When I was a child, I thought it was a little morbid…thinking about death when you’re bursting with energy and life can be hard! Now that I’m older, it’s not so hard to remember my future appointment.  My body aches and my strength wanes. My children get sick. My grandparents are gone and my parents are retired.  We’ve lived through some deep tragedies and serious health scares with people we love. We’ve said heart-rending goodbyes, expected and horribly unexpected. We’ve learned that sorrow is part of life.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Dust isn’t much to look at. We remove it from our homes, we sweep it off our porches.  We cover it with lawns and gardens. It’s humble and unlovely without amendment.

And yet, by the grace of God, we are dust that walks and talks, that loves and yearns, that grows and learns. We accumulate family, knowledge, wealth and accomplishments.  We interact with other animated dustlings and we either enrich or degrade their lives.  We are dust that speaks, sings, worships, rejoices, cries out, pleads, grieves and sighs. We are dust that is full of potential and promise, but fundamentally, we are still dust. All that we are, have, and can do is given to us.  Everything we see and feel is a gift.  Every pain can only be suffered because we’ve been given the gift of feeling.  It is a gift to be able to soar to inexpressible joy. It is a gift to be able to count great loss.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It is humbling to remember that I am dust. It is a great equalizer. Where is envy’s place between dust and more dust? Where is self-righteous anger’s place? Where is selfishness’s place?

Can dust seek a place more honorable than other dust? Can dust demand? Can dust judge the worth of other dust? Dust cannot even proclaim its own worth.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Easter is coming, glorious and resplendent. Joyful exaltation will succeed this season of solemn remembering.  Dust will be united with glory and raised to the heavenly places with shouts and trumpets.  I don’t forget the joy of Easter during these 40 days, but I prepare for the celebration of deliverance by walking through wilderness for a while.

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