remember – an Ash Wednesday reflection

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

So God spoke to the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden as an aide-mémoire of human mortality. Even more, as a declaration of the loss of innocence, and with it life’s purpose of intimate, harmonious co-existence with God.

Early this morning, winter’s overcast skies suddenly parted and a ray of light poured through the window. For an instant, I was mesmerized by particles of dust; a moment before invisible, now exposed, floating in the air.

Dust. So insignificant. Lying around loosely, stirring up easily, drifting about aimlessly, landing again lightly, and, inevitably, with every shift in the air, repeating the cycle.

Dust. That’s me.

Even with responsibilities to shoulder and tasks at hand, I, at times, lie around rather loosely, uncertain of my life’s purpose. I come to a day’s end. The next morning the sun will rise (or so I hope!) and the diurnal journey of being here and there, doing this and that will begin again. Sometimes I wonder. What’s the point? What greater world of good will I do beyond the maintenance of my life?

And I, an emotional person with deep feelings, passions, like dust can be stirred up. When life’s circumstances or world events go awry (or other than I desire), I can fly around aimlessly until I calm down and land again; almost inevitably repeating the cycle the next time something or someone disturbs me.

Dust. Yep, that’s me.

Ash WednesdayOn this Ash Wednesday, many folk will have their foreheads anointed with ashes accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I will submit to this ancient ritual as a personal memorial, acknowledging that I am dust, mortal, destined one day to die. I also will accept the anointing of ashes as a sign of my awareness that our existential dustiness is a common mark of all humanity. Hence, I am one with every human being, irrespective of differences of sex and race, culture and class, origin and ethnicity, theology and ideology. I am part of all and all, part of me.

This reality reminds me of my life’s purpose: to live with justice and compassion, fairness and benevolence for all.

This will be my focus, my labor this Lent: to behold and to hold steadfast this truth. For such renewal I surely, sorely need, for I, like loosely lying, easily stirring, aimlessly drifting dust, spend so much time living otherwise.

2 thoughts on “remember – an Ash Wednesday reflection

  1. A lot to think about in here Paul. I didn’t get ashes today, but I certainly understand how we feel more like dust on some days than others. I think we all search for who we are and what our purpose is many times in our lives, and of course over time our purpose changes. Watching my mom today on her 86th birthday, I felt closer to dust. She is so vibrant and healthy in her body, but almost dust in her mind. I love the vibrancy in her body, because it’s her way of fighting her return to dust. As for me, I know my purpose at this moment, and that’s to continue to laugh and cry with her. During Lent I’ll be focusing on my role of keeping her as comfortable and happy as possible. Caregiving is hard work, but one of the best jobs ever! On this Ash Wednesday my day ended with purchasing my first package of Depends for my Mom. We will be spending our time together smiling, laughing, living and reading out loud, until the dust settles for the final time. That is my promise to God and to my Mom. A great reflection for us all! Thanks!


  2. Your promise to God and to Doris – and, indeed, to yourself – to care for her AND your daily fulfillment of your promise in so very many ways is marvelous to behold. I honor you in your commitment and your care, both the fruit of your love.

    Liked by 1 person

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