Ash Wednesday

We are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Lent is a time, if nowhen else is, to get real about who we are, what we are, how we are. It is a time, Jesus says, to forget about performing for the public. It is a time to get close to our maker, closer than is comfortable; to take off the masks and the fine words and the perfect prayers, and to be the dust and ashes of ourselves in the presence of the one who breathes dust and ashes into life.

We are dust, and we are ashes. We are lighter than a breath, ready to be erased by the slightest breeze; yet also we smudge, leaving our mark on those we touch, for good or for ill. We are elements moulded into the image of life, of God.

We are dust, and we are moved, swept up by the breath of God.

Lent is the time to take courage, to have the structure to pull our dust together and face God, face the one who is unseen but who sees us more clearly than any mirror, to be real, to be honest, to ask forgiveness, to expect renewal, to practice being exactly whom God has created us to be.

It is not about piety, choosing the right fast or the correct discipline, taking up the perfect number of extra duties, laying down the measured amount of penitence. 

God sees us, sees our secret selves, our inner being, our dust and ashes, our shining faces. God sees through us.

Lent is a time, if nowhen else is, not to perform piety, but to practice humility; not to perform beneficence, but to practice generosity; not to perform mourning but to practice grief, for all that is done that should have been left undone; for all that should have been done that has been left undone; with tears and trembling, and the sure and certain knowledge that God, who is compassion and mercy, sees us.

Lent is a time to remember that although we are but dust, God is life itself. Although we are but ashes, God burns with a passion for us that has no equal and makes no sense. Although we are lighter than the breath of an angel, we have weight and value on the scales of God’s mercy. Nothing, no one whom God has made can escape without being beloved.

We are dust, and it is truly extraordinary what God can do with that.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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