Ash Wednesday Reflections
“For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
I am small.
I am insignificant.
I am nothing.
I have been taught to push these words away, to regard them as deflating and demotivating. And yet, sometimes when life is overwhelming and I can never be enough, the reminder that no, I can’t be, is an acceptance of grace.
It was in the spirit of nothingness that I attended my first Ash Wednesday service last week. Like most Mormons, I grew up a little unnerved by liturgical seasons and rituals. They were uncomfortable and unknown. As the years have progressed, I’ve felt a sense of calming and grounding in the liturgical calendar—a reminder that there is a time and place for feasting and for fasting, for celebration and for contemplation.
Now is the time for fasting and contemplation. It is a time to rest and repent, a reminder of Christ’s 40 days of fasting. It is a time to withdraw and examine our lives, our souls, our selves.
Admittedly, I had not given much thought to where we were in the liturgical calendar this year. Between my own busy-ness—a new baby, kids playing competitive sports, managing a home, hustle here, bustle there—I had become unmoored. Awareness of time is not one of my strong suits.
And yet, I awoke Wednesday morning with a yearning for quiet and a reminder that I truly am nothing in this world. None of us are. Birth and death are the great equalizers—we all come into this world and we shall all depart. None of us are getting out of here alive.
So often I’ve used this reality check as a mantra to carpe diem—Seize the day! Make your life what you want it to be! Work, work, work! Do, do, do! Go, go, go!
But last Wednesday, when the world felt overwhelming, as I grappled with feeling disappointed in many of the humans around me, I felt the call of grace.
“You are God’s beloved dust and to dust you shall return.”
I hear the words as they echo from the minister’s mouth as he brands me with the sign of the cross—the sign of Jesus, God made flesh—upon my forehead.
The head: the symbol of our humanness.
My eight year old reminds me daily that our brain is our evolutionary superpower. We humans have the corner market on smarts (or at least we think we do).
And yet it is the head that needs reminding that we are nothing.
Not even God escapes the nothingness of death in this story.
With that freedom, we can let die the parts of our lives and our selves that no longer serve us, that do not reflect God in us.
This is a call to let my own importance die,
A call to de-centre myself in my own narrative,
A call to quiet my mouth (and often my keyboard),
A call to truly listen,
A call to understand,
A call to engage with curiosity and calm.
God calls me to nothingness, stillness and smallness so I have the grace to accept the new life that will grow. Grace to accept grace.
We are but dust.
It is our beginning and our end.