Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ash Wednesday, Part 1


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  In Christian tradition, on this day ashes are used to symbolize two things:  repentance and mortality.

In considering the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality seem appropriate. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way of showing our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God.  As we consider the damage to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery. We are called to repent of our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.

We are also called to a humble acceptance of our place in the universe: “Remember, O mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” Ashes symbolize our mortality, reminding us of who we are: human beings, made up of the dust of the earth. Humus, human, humility—these words all have the same root. Our bodies are made up of the same elements that make up the earth’s crust. For that matter, we are made up of the same elements that make up the stars. We are, quite literally, star dust. We participate in the great unfolding journey of the universe, and our role is to celebrate in mystery and awe.  And yet we are mortal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

For me, this puts things in perspective.  It provides me with grounding for the spiritual journey through Lent.

(This blog posting includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell.)