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Dusty and Ash-faced

Updated: Feb 19

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Ashes and dust. It's the stuff of Ash Wednesday. We were invited to come and be temporarily marked with ashes, the ashes put on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. As we were marked we were told: “Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.” Ashes on our foreheads – remember: We are mortal. We all are. Ain't none of us getting out of here alive. What then? Is there anyone or anything that can save us from death? The cross on our foreheads. Remember: Another died for us and in the process conquered death, defanging the great dragon. Death has been slain. There is life for the world in the death of Christ.

Ashes and dust. Both are pictures of dissolution, decay, destruction and death. Things fall apart. They rot. They eventually are broken down until they are just dust in the wind. You can speed things up with a little heat. Fire. Reducing something to carbon dust. Ashes. Ashes and dust both mark the end of something that once was but now is not. Nothing left that resembles anything like what was originally alive and kicking or substantial and occupying space and time, holding place in the world as some thing. Now just nothing. Gone.

We could speak of the forty days of Lent. Forty. God time. Testing time. Forty days of the flood, through which a new humanity was carried. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness, through which a new people was formed. Forty days on the mountain with God. Forty days of fasting and temptation for Jesus before starting his public ministry. Forty days of Lent. Forty days you and God. You seeking God. God searching you.

We could speak of giving up or taking on during Lent. Using the forty days to build new habits or to break old habits. Using the time to become a better human being. But as our Bishop said, that's just self-help or self-improvement. It's too focused on self.

Much as our culture and the identity politics of these days are all about expressive individualism, being an authentic human being by expressing outwardly our inner emotional world and desires, truth is, these are some of the things that are killing us spiritually, pulling us away from God and from true community with each other. We don't find life by turning in on ourselves with even greater naval gazing, but rather by turning up toward God and out toward others. It isn't self-actualization and self-validation that ultimately gives life, but rather the death of the self that we have so carefully crafted according to our will. True life is found in yielding to the love of God that would make us most truly ourselves.

Forty days – you and God. You seeking God. God searching you.

Spiritual disciplines exercised with even a small amount of paying attention to what's going on in my heart will reveal what a mess I am. Who will save me from myself? Who will set my heart right and help me to really love? Ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross. Another. Jesus. Thanks be to God. But the disciplines of Lent not only build mindfulness. They do actually form us. Our actions shape who we are becoming. What we do in the body affects the contours of our souls.

Forty days – you and God. You seeking God. God searching you. The more we seek Him, the more we yield to Him, the more our life takes the shape of those ashes on the forehead, the more we resemble the crucified. Those who suffer for others. Those who die that they might live. Those who know that a day of Resurrection is coming.

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