“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” —Genesis 3:19
On the first day of Lent, which the church calls Ash Wednesday, many people have their foreheads crossed with ashes as a reminder that we are creatures of dust. We are fragile, fallible, fallen human beings. From the moment we emerge from our mother’s womb, we begin the process of dying.
To think that one day we will be nothing but ashes is a pretty grim reality. Not surprisingly many of us avoid facing this truth. It is not something we want to reflect on or speak about or even read. After all, when we begin to sense how near to nothing we are, we can easily find ourselves in despair. Being born to die is not good news.
However, the fact that we are marked by the sign of the cross tells us we are infinitely more than dust. We are God’s beloved, and nothing—not even death—can separate us from God’s love through Jesus Christ. Our dust is charged with God’s own life-sustaining and death-defeating breath. We are beloved dust.
Daily Practice: Go outside and pick up a handful of soil. As you do this, focus on these two symbols: dust and the cross. Even when you wash off the dust from your forehead, remember the reality of your identity—you are dust redeemed by the cross.
Jeremiah, in an unusual burst of good cheer and optimism, describes the joyous return of people long exiled—those far from home; those displaced long ago; those who are socially marginalized or who find travel difficult, who are blind or lame or with child or even in labor. God will bring them home.
It took me a long time to understand the meaning of scripture passages about straight paths. As the daughter of a geographer, I wondered what God had against topography. Why did God want to exalt valleys and bring mountains low?