Ash Wednesday Reflection:
“…you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” -Genesis 3:19
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…” -Joel 2:12-13
In one of my favorite devotionals for Ash Wednesday, the author offers up that perhaps the reminder of Genesis 3 is less about feeling small, shameful, or insignificant, and instead as a reminder that we belong to the earth. Likewise, I love how the passage from Joel speaks of what we are to rend (rip, tear) and names that it is “our hearts not our clothing.” I recall a time where Ash Wednesday felt like a day that I was supposed to feel wretched, terrible, good for nothing, and reduced to dust. It was a time to become low, to repent, to feel extremely sorry and remorseful about sin and the ways I had offended God.
Yet this devotional invited me to see the return to dust as an invitation to belong. Added to that, the words from Joel to return to God further shifted my understanding. It continues to both comfort and encourage me to go deeper, to rend my heart to God, and to recognize God’s attributes as being loving, gracious and merciful. God is not angry, shameful, and is not calling us to rend our clothes or see ourselves as reduced to the dust we are made from. The call to put on Ashes for Ash Wednesday can and should be about repentance, and yet sometimes our view of repentance (which comes from putting on sackcloth and ashes which have a mournful spirit to them) keeps us in a spiral of shame and self-loathing rather than move us to a place where we can actually turn back to God and live.
So I want to invite you in this time and space, wherever you might be, however you may view Ash Wednesday, to do 3 things:
1.) Read the passages above through the lens of God’s grace and mercy; as God desiring to make things right between us as creation and God as creator. Consider that “being dust,” might not be a bad descriptor, but a reminder of our limitations, of our connectedness with the earth, and of our reliance on God.
2.) Rend your heart to God. “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning…” In other words, let your heart break for the things you wish to change, should change, or will change about you in the coming weeks. Consider what might help you and your relationship with God and with others.
Perhaps if you haven’t fasted for Lent now is a time to consider doing so? What would be beneficial to fast from? (Consider what thoughts, feelings, habits, or tangible items you have relied on and what might be keeping you from deeper relationships with God or other people? Coffee, chocolate, thinking you need to do everything, feeling angry or sad, feeling animosity towards others etc.)
3.) Come to church to receive the imposition of ashes on March 2 from 9-11am or 1:30-3:30 pm. If that doesn’t work, or you don’t have much desire to participate in that tradition, my invitation is to go connect with nature somehow.
Play in the dirt (if it’s not frozen), or plant a seed like we did last year, maybe you sit and watch the birds for a while, or you could go for a brisk walk outside and bathe yourself in the nature around you. Take in the sun if it is shining; after all it has been a long winter and the vitamins and warmth may just rejuvenate your soul. Remember that you are dust, and feel connected to the world/universe around you.
As we journey towards Jesus’ passion, and contemplate the events that led to his death and resurrection, we do so mindful that we are loved, forgiven, and invited to join in life giving practices. We all probably know and remember John 3:16, but my favorite thing to remind people of, especially this time of year, is the verse that follows. May it bring you comfort and serve as an assurance of God’s forgiveness for you:
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” -John 3:17
Believe this good news and cherish the peace that comes with knowing you are God’s beloved.
In love and fellowship,