This year, for the first time in my life I felt I was to observe Lent. I found an Ash Wednesday service and went to it. The minister talked about how we would now be pilgrims on a journey of repentance, reflection and self-denial. When he was done talking I followed him and the congregants along a path made of crosses marked out on the floor. It led to a chapel where we stood in line to approach the minister. When it was my turn he dipped his finger into a mixture of ashes, made the sign of a cross on my forehead, and declared quite sternly “Remember, from dust you were made and to dust you will return.” I was surprised by what he said. I thought he was going to give me a blessing. Well, maybe it was. Maybe this reminder of my humanity, this reminder of my humble beginnings, and of my certain and humble end, was a blessing. I went home pensive.
The next morning I woke up at 4 a.m. with the minister’s words racing through my mind. “And to dust you will return.” I was frightened. My heart sped up. Am I going to die today I wondered. Is that why I felt led to the Ash Wednesday service (the first Ash Wednesday service I had been to in my life). Is that why the minister told me that? Or… was this instead a Scrooge-like experience. A chance. A chance to reflect on my life. A chance to consider and confess my self-absorbed attitudes and actions, even my self-absorbed prayers. Maybe this was a chance to try denying myself some of those small things so that I could live a truer, larger, more loving life. Yes, I think that’s what it was, a chance to see a better way to live. And give. A chance to say not just “God bless me” but “God bless us, everyone!”
“For dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19 NIV