A dusting of snow and ash

Today is Ash Wednesday and it snowed this morning and a little more this afternoon.  Today is the beginning of Lent, a day in which we recite these words to one another: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  Despite the cold forecast ahead, and despite the groundhog supposedly seeing his shadow two weeks ago, the snow will soon enough be gone.  “Remember, snow, that you are water, and to water you will return.”

Ash Wednesday is our annual reminder of the impermanence of all things.  Snow, bodies, consumer goods, social status: it will not stand.  Isaiah and the Psalmist use other images to say the same thing: “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades” (Isaiah 40:6,7, and Psalm 103:15,16).  This is neither something to celebrate nor something to lament.  It is something to remember.  Something to call to mind and hold tenderly, even as we are held tenderly within time’s passing.

What does last, the Psalmist goes on to say in verse 17, is “the steadfast love of the Divine.”  It continues, “from everlasting to everlasting.”  To be a receiver and giver of love, connection, grace, mercy, is to participate in something everlasting – something that has been going on before we arrived on the scene and something that will continue well after we’re gone.

To be marked with ashes as we do today – and, to be dusted with snow on your clothes which can happen for a few more weeks – is to receive the message that now is the time when this love is being made manifest.  The kin-dom of God is now, and we are recipients of it within the confines of these bodies.

At tonight’s 7pm service (yes, small advertisement here) we will sing, pray, sit in silence, receive ashes, and hear two poems, one of which is this:

Blessing the Dust
by Jan Richardson

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.