“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
The season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday. In case we had forgotten, these words spoken over us re-awaken us to our mortality. Our bodies come from the stuff of the earth, and it is to this earth that our bodies are returning. The ashes we receive on our foreheads today mark us as those who bear witness to this.
Remembering that we are dust and will return to dust does not carry the immediate sense of good news. Remember – you’re going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it. Ouch.
But our tradition teaches us that there is great freedom in coming to terms with one’s mortality. It becomes the gateway into truly living. Our baptism is an acting of dying in advance, dying before you die, in order that the life you now have is recognized as pure gift from God. “No one can see the kingdom of God (i.e., no one can see and experience true life), without being born again,” Jesus tells the incredulous Nicodemus (John 3:3). “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” Paul writes to the Galatians (2:20).
In our time of ecological uncertainty, perhaps even upheaval, remembering that we are dust is also a way of remembering our solidarity with the rest of creation – our participation in the kin-dom of God, the family of sentient and non-sentient creations in which even the rocks cry out their Hallelujah.
Lent begins. We remember that we are dust. We die and receive a resurrection that charges us with the life of the Spirit, animating these mortal bodies.