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Only Dust: Ash Wednesday Reflection

“Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Ouch. The Lenten season begins with a body blow. You are dust. It comes to us from Genesis but it reads like Ecclesiastes. We are dust. Vapor. A wilting flower. A breath. It’s humbling. Maybe even humiliating.

And Lent is the season of humility. We take 40 days to humble ourselves before God. We are reminded of our imperfection. Our sinfulness. Our failure.

But this is a liberation. We live in a world that is ever proud. We are always perfect. We are always rising. We are always better than and greater than and moving upward. Even if it hurts us or scars us or takes the life out of our bones we smile and talk about how we are reaching for the stars. Always reaching for one more accolade or accomplishment. One more promotion. One more A. One more degree or publication or win or trophy.

We are terminators. Machines sent from the future to overachieve until we bleed excellence. We are, all of us, latent presidents and CEO’s and doctors and star athletes, each of us so brimming with potential and perfection and potential perfection that we shine like stars.

But for 40 days a year. For one ash-stained day in late Winter, we breathe. We bleed. We cry. We wear our dust nature on our foreheads. And we remind others and most importantly ourselves that we are dust. For one shining moment, down in the dust and the dirt, we are freed of being perfect snow-flakes. We are freed from being “the chosen ones” and “the future” and “tomorrow” and we are dust.

And this is good news. Because God didn’t come into the world for terminators. God didn’t suffer and die for “chosen ones” or “perfect snow-flakes.” God lived and bled and died for dust. And this world shaped dust in which we live does not rest on our shoulders.

God has inhabited the dust. God has invaded achievement and perfection to rescue the dust. So breathe. For one day, for one season you are allowed to be only human. You are allowed to be imperfect. You are allowed to be hurt and name the places you have fallen short. As we lie in the sackcloth and ashes of our humanness God is in control. God who will wipe away every tear. God who will bend the arc of the universe towards a coming kingdom of justice and peace. God who took on dust and humanness and all the wounds we inflict on one another has already had the final word.