Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes and Dust

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the church season of Lent. Lent is supposed to be about refocusing ourselves on the most important things in our lives—God's mercy and our call to serve Him. When God sent Adam and Eve out of Eden after the Fall, He reminded them that without Him they are nothing. He created them from dust, and when they died their bodies would once more return to the dust. (Genesis 3:19) They were only living beings because God made it so—without Him, they were nothing but dust. This is true for me too, and I will be reminded of it today when the ashes are imposed on my forehead.

So often my attention is dominated by the ashes and dust in my life—my job, my finances, my house, my transitory problems, even my body. Why don't I spend more time focusing on eternal things like God, my relationship with Him, my soul, and the souls around me? It's so hard to concentrate on invisible eternal things when the transitory physical aspects of my life are so obvious. I can't see God or souls. I can't touch or smell salvation. But I can feel my growling stomach and the cold wind on my skin, and I can read the numbers on my monthly bills. Still, I know that all the things I see and touch in this world are only real for today. Someday all of it will be ashes and dust. Only God and His beloved children will outlast it.

I can try to take care of my physical needs and stay alive as long as possible. I can choose to live as the animals do, focusing on my own survival and thinking nothing of eternity. I can resign myself to being no more than dust, an insignificant creature who lives an insignificant life and then dies. Without God, that is what my life would be like. All I would have left is the transitory parts of my existence, the ashes and dust. But I can be so much more than that, and that's why I need Lent to remind me how much I need God. Yes, like Adam and Eve I was formed from dust and my body will return to dust when I die, but through the power of God I am also a living being with a soul and a place in God's eternal family. A part of me is a shining ray of light that no temporary body can fully contain. That, not this body and this Earthly life, is God's true gift to me.
Ash Wednesday is about facing the truth, and that can be difficult. It's hard to look at so many seemingly important aspects of my life and see ashes and dust. It's humbling to realize that the projects to which I devote so much of my effort aren't really very important in the long run. It can be frustrating to accept that I am, on my own, a helpless creature powerless to make any real difference in the world. But the truth also sets us free. By seeings the ashes and dust for what they are, I can also see the true brilliance of God's light and more fully embrace it. I can make a new commitment to ask God to elevate me above the ashes and dust and to give my existence true meaning. I can seek God's love and mercy more fervently and make renewed commitments to use my gifts to make a lasting difference. After all, I am ashes and dust, but I am also a radiant child of God.

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