The phrase I used as I made a sooty cross on dozens of foreheads this morning was "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It's the phrase I'm supposed to use, but I do wish I could change it. I'd rather just say "Remember that you are dust." Full stop. Period. No more.
No need to say "and to dust you shall return." We already are dust. We never left it. One can't return to a condition which they've never left. We still are dust.
But dust, dirt, clay is us through and through. Adam means "earth" or "ground". We come from that ground from the very first book of our Bible. Like clay, we can be molded and shaped in different ways, different forms. That's the diversity that we are assured. God from the first very people made sure we were not clones of each other. We are all different and thrive because of that diversity.
I find it surprising that many people find Lent "a downer". What chorister hasn't lamented "I miss the Alleluias at this time of year"? I admit, the preponderance of minor keys in Western music during Lent can be a maddening, but the season itself can be amazingly fresh.
Like the dirt we come from, Lent should be a fertile bed where we grow new ideas, become strong anew, and rise towards the sun with color. We should be taking the lessons that we learn during this time of
introspection and build a better life, a giving life, a shared bounty as we are charged in the Gospels.
It was the first time I actually placed dust on anyone's forehead in the sign of the cross. I knew it was messy, but had no idea how much dust was going to get splattered around. I even got some bonus ashes on some noses and low hanging bangs and felt awkwardness from the mess. It got on my vestments and I, for a moment, was embarrassed and self-conscious.
When I realized that I had become self-conscious during the service, it dawned on me that this was why I was here, on Ash Wednesday, serving at the Eucharist. We are dust and dust is messy. Life isn't meant to be easy and comfortable. We'll always be challenged as mortals to face a world that isn't under our control. Control, like cleanliness, is an illusion. We can't dive deep into Lent without understanding that we aren't in control.
I'll be walking around all day with a sign of this mess, this dust, that I am. And my journey to Easter, though just beginning, will certainly have other mistakes and errors. But from those times of dirt and mess, insights arise. Justice grows. And life abundant springs forth with joy and caring.
We are blessed because we are dust and it's something worth remembering.