“Affirming commonalities, solidarity actions, building community, humanitarian outreach.”
On February 9th, almost a month ago, I created the title for this blog post. Consistency with the spiritual practice of blogging about spiritual practices = fail. Yet, I will finish wading through the last practices in the alphabet, and finally be freed of my commitment. Consistent = no, committed = yes.
Writing about Unity on Ash Wednesday feels right, rich with possibility. What is more community building than a public acknowledgment of unity in our mortality? This planet of humans may have disagreements, we may have disagreements wherever two or more are gathered, yet we share one trait – this life as we know it is finite. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
I’ve spent time this morning reading comments about Ash Wednesday and Lent. There is a trend for “ashes to go” in urban areas. People, many who do not worship regularly, can receive ashes (and absolution?) on street corners, where clergy and laypeople gather, with small bowls of burnt palms and dusty thumbs, ready to trace a cross on any willing forehead, and repeat the words, “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
As a pastor, and as a pastor not raised in the church, this tradition of the imposition of ashes is…curious, and complicated. Increasingly, we as a society seek control. Control of our lives, control of our time, control of…well pretty much everything. We celebrate individual freedom. We strive to achieve, to succeed, we work to create a meaningful material legacy. Ash Wednesday is an annual reminder that all is for naught. A reminder that our efforts, fierce as they may be are a Sisyphean task. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. 40 days the church encourages reflection and practices to deepen one’s faith. A season of time that mirror’s Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, resisting temptations. Christians were encouraged to give up habits; these days we are also encouraged to add on habits that are life affirming, faith strengthening. Unifying….even as we remember “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”