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From Dust I Came and to Dust I Will Return

February 13, 2013

I went to our Ash Wednesday Service at church today.  I’m relatively new to Ash Wednesday, our Mennonite church growing up didn’t practice it nor Lent much.  We did Holy Week–Maundy Thursday with Communion and Footwashing, Good Friday, and of course, Palm Sunday and Easter. Ash Wednesday didn’t get much air time.  It was only since I became Methodist that I started attending Ash Wednesday services.

At the heart of Ash Wednesday is the reminder that we are human.  We are not God.  We were created out of dust and some day, we will die and return to dust.  Different years, I have different reactions to those statements.  This year’s has been the most odd.  I wanted to stand up and say “Amen!” when I heard the pastor tell me that I was made out of dust.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot this fall and winter about being made in God’s image, of being God’s image-bearer.  I see God moving over the dust, creating humans out of it–out of dust–and breathing life into the first man and woman.  I’m almost overwhelmed with the mystery of being formed from dust.  Dust.  From a collection of dirt and dead material humans were formed.  Amazing. (For those who are worried about me–being amazed by this doesn’t mean I’m also not amazed with evolution….that’s a whole other story.  God is present in both stories).

I don’t think that’s the reaction I’m supposed to have on Ash Wednesday.  I’m not supposed to want to dance and sing wildly because it is so unimaginable, that humans came from dust.  I’m supposed to be repentant and remember that I am nothing.  But I can’t.  I can’t.  Every cell of my being screams look at me!  Look around!  Look at the old woman who abused her body and rejoice (Our pastor shared a piece of artwork entitled Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida during the sermon today).   God created her in His image.  She is God’s beloved child.  She is more than dust because she is God’s beloved child.

Even the idea of returning to dust failed to sober me today.  For some reason, that was also a bit reassuring.  I am not meant to live forever, nor do I want to.  I am not scared of dying.  Death is not the end.

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On his website, Red Letter Christians, Shane Claiborne writes the following:

All the major world religions have an element of self-denial at their core.  Jews have Yom Kippur.  Muslims have Ramadan.  Christians have Lent.

In a world filled with clutter, noise, and hustle, Lent is a good excuse to step back and rethink how we think and live…..

It’s an opportunity to give up something that is sucking the life out of us so that we can be filled with God, with life, with love again.

That’s the importance of Ash Wednesday.  It’s a way of acknowledging that I can do nothing to earn God’s love because I am human.  I am fully human and I mess up.  Although I can never be more than fully human, thus I will always continue to sin, I can use Lent as a time for self-reflection.  Lent is spiritual spring cleaning–looking at what clutter I have in my schedule, my mind, and my heart which has accumulated for the past year (or longer).  I can find what practices I need to add to my life, not just to do for Lent, but practices that benefit me for an entire year or lifetime.  I can determine what my life is full of that is preventing from keeping the only two commandments God gives–loving God and loving others.

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Is it bad that I love having an ash cross marked on my forehead?  For one day, I feel like I am outwardly marked by what I believe.  I am God’s.  I grew up in a denomination that practiced outward symbols to exhibit their beliefs.  My grandma still wears a covering and I can remember when my other grandma decided to stop wearing hers.  I was curious about the covering (or doily as my dad called them) my mom still had in her drawer but never wore.

In my parents’ town, there is a decent population of Old Order Mennonites–a conservative group of Mennonites who drive horse and buggies, wear coverings and dresses and stockings (hose) with their sneakers.  Upon seeing them, everyone knows who they are and where their allegiance lies (with God).

For one day, I like being marked.  It’s a bit uncomfortable to go to school to pick up the kids from their public school.  All those people who may not know otherwise will know today who I am and where my allegiance lies.  I’m nervous, but proud.  It’s a symbol that I am loved.

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For Lent this year?  I am going to attempt to add the Prayer of Examen to my night time routines.  I like this one because I can say it in the dark, with my glasses off, so I don’t need to get out of bed to get any book or form to follow.  In the book, Red Letter Christians, Tony Campolo explains it like this:

It has two parts.  The first part requires that you reflect on the day you have just lived, and think of all the good things you did in the course of that day.  You should name every blessing you may have brought into the lives of others, citing the ways that you lived out the will of God and the instances when you helped other people.

..the second part of the Prayer of Examen, which requires us to do the unpleasant task of reflecting on the sins and failures of that day.  He [Saint Ignatius of Loyola] cautions, however, that you dare not look at sins and the failures of the day until you have first affirmed yourself….Name them one by one and confess them to God.  Then ask God not only to forgive you but also to cleanse you of your sins.

We may incorporate this a bit into our dinner routine.  Some families do “highs and lows” of their days at dinner.  Shane Claiborne, also in Red Letter Christians, suggests “proud and sorry” as an alternative.  Each member shares something they are proud of and something they are sorry for.

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If you are not sure what to do for Lent–how to spring clean you self–may I make a suggestion?  Over on her blog, Rachel Held Evans has compiled a list of 40 Ideas for Lent.  I’ve only had a chance to browse it, but I hope to look at it more closely and maybe add one or two of her suggestions to my Lenten practice as well.

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