New song by Kathy Douglass: ‘With These Ashes‘…
With these ashes, we remember
What we’re made of, what we’re made of
With these ashes, we remember
We are made of dust
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
So it has always been
Ashes to ahses, dust to dust
We return again
Listen to the Soundfile here.
A PDF of the music: Music.With these ashes (please attribute author)
So the day comes around again
and we find ourselves surprised
by the truth
that we are mortal
The stuff of dust and ashes.
Our egos and esteem are held up
to the brutal mirror of the finite:
Know that you will end.
The world will continue without you.
And it’s only with our vision so narrowed
that we are again
able to see
all that lies beyond us:
Know that you are not God.
Know that all the things that make heaven and earth
reach way beyond you.
Live today with faith in your humanness
and let that lead you to life.
Welcome to Lent.
(Source: Cheryl Lawrie)
Ash Wednesday: Karl Rahner
Dust is a good subject for reflection on Ash Wednesday, for dust, symbol of nothingness, can tell us a great deal. The prayer that accompanies the distribution of ashes comes from Genesis (3.19): ‘From the earth you were taken; dust you are and to dust you shall return.’ Dust is the symbol of coming to nothing: it has no content, no form, no shape; it blows away, the empty, indifferent, colourless, aimless, unstable booty of senseless change, to be found everywhere and at home nowhere. And scripture is right. We are dust. We are always in the process of dying. We are the only beings who know about this, know that we are bound for death, know that we are dust. Through our practical experience we come to realise that we are dust. Scripture tells us that we are like the grass in the field, like an empty puff of air. We are creatures of drifting perplexity. Despair is always threatening us and our optimism is a way of numbing bleak anxiety. Dust is what we are.
It is difficult for us to avoid hating ourselves. The reason why we cast our enemies down into the dust, tread them into dust, make them eat the dust, is because we are in despair about ourselves. What we cannot stand in others is what makes us despair about ourselves.
Dust has an inner relationship, if not an essential identity with the concept of ‘flesh’. Flesh certainly designates in the Old and New Testaments the whole human person. It designates us precisely in our basic otherness to God, in our frailty, our weakness, our separation from God, which is manifested in sin and death. The two assertions, ‘we are dust’ and ‘we are flesh’ are, then, more or less essentially similar assertions.
But the good news of salvation rings out: ‘The Word became flesh.’ God himself has strewn his own head with the dust of the earth. He has fallen on his face upon the earth, which with evil greed drank up his tears and his blood. We can say to God exactly what is said to us: ‘Remember that you are dust, and in death you shall return to dust.’ We can tell him what he told us in Paradise, because he has become what we are after Paradise. He has become flesh, flesh that suffers even unto death, transitory, fleeting, unstable, dust.
Ever since that moment, the sentence of terrifying judgement, ‘dust you are,’ is changed for people of faith and love. With the dust of the earth we trace on our foreheads the sign of the cross, so that what we are in reality can be made perceptible in a sign: people of death, people of redemption. ‘Dust you are’: the judgement still has a mysterious and shocking sense. The old sense is not abolished. But it descends with Christ into the dust of the earth, where it becomes an upward motion, an ascent above the highest heaven. ‘Remember that you are dust.’ In these words we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life for ever.
(Source: From The Eternal Year, Burns & Oates, London, 1964)
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that we remember we come from the earth and shall return to the earth. Everything is connected. We live as part of creation, not above or separate from it. It isn’t just about personal sin and death, but a reminder that our lives are linked in love as part of God’s joyful ecology of beginnings and endings.
(Source: Diana Butler Bass)
I’ve got ashes on my forehead and I’m trying hard to learn
This dust that I have started from is where I shall return.
(Source: Jonathan Rundman, ‘Ashes‘, from the album Sound Theology)
Wonderful Ash Wednesday sermon by Jennifer Henry here, posted on Ched Myers blogsite.
Ash Wednesday is the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
It isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s supposed to be a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. OK, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer — that verse from Genesis is what God said to Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden for their sins. But there’s a big party the night before Ash Wednesday. That’s Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” a secular observance that evolved out of “Shrove Tuesday,” the last hurrah – usually marked by eating of pancakes or other sinfully sweet foods – before the solemnity and penance of Lent set in.
Fun fact: Lent is actually longer than 40 days. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but most churches don’t count the Sundays as part of Lent.
It used to be true that Catholics made up the lion’s share of people celebrating Ash Wednesday. But today, most “liturgical churches” — those with a regular, calendar-based liturgy, or set of rituals and observances — mark the day, including Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Protestants.
There is no mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible. But there is a tradition of donning ashes as a sign of penitence that predates Jesus. In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are other associations of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. By the 10th century, the monk Aelfric tied the practice, which dates to the eighth century, to the period before Easter, writing, “Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.” By the 11th century, the practice was widespread throughout the church — until Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, threw the practice out in the 16th century because it was not biblically based. There’s no Lent in the Bible, either, though many Christians see it as an imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and battling with Satan in the desert.
No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual. But some Christians choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith.
Just a thought……
In some monastic communities, monks go up to receive the ashes barefoot. Going barefoot is a joyous thing. It is good to feel the floor or the earth under your feet. It is good when the whole church is silent, filled with the hush of people walking without shoes. One wonders why we wear such things as shoes anyway. Prayer is so much more meaningful without them. It would be good to take them off in church all the time. But perhaps this might appear quixotic to those who have forgotten such elementary satisfactions. Someone might catch cold at the mere thought of it.
— Thomas Merton
Blessed are you, God of all creation,
Blessed are you, Christ one, Word and redemption,
You created everything, including our being.
It is written that we are formed from the dust of the earth.
And it is said that we are all made of star-stuff –
the ash of the Universe.
May we humbly listen anew to your call of grace.
As we journey to the cross,
May we receive these ashes,
May they be a sign for us;
An opening of a time of reflection,
As we think upon who we are and how we live;
At the start of the road towards Easter,
Breathe into us again the breath of life,
Mark us with your purpose,
That we might bear your light and love into the world.
As an anointing of blessing.
(source: Jon Humphries, on Prayers that Unite)
Dust to Dust
Great article here by Barbara Brown Taylor
“The gospel of the day is not about the poverty of flesh so much as it is about the holiness of ashes, which are worthy of all reverence. It was God who decided to breathe on them, after all, God who chose to bring them to life. We are certainly dust and to dust we shall return, but in the meantime our bodies are sources of deep revelation for us. They are how we come to know both great pain and great pleasure. They help us to recognize ourselves in one another. They are how God gets to us, at the most intimate and universal level of all”.
Read the full article here.
reduction – a poem by Thom Shuman
greed, envy, worry,
doubt, brokenness, grief:
you take the juices
of our burnt out lives,
pouring them into
the Spirit, setting
the temperature on low
as you gently keep stirring,
you mix in the crumbs
from the Table,
adding a dash of
of the Cup’s nectar,
some sprigs of time,
a couple of hope leaves,
patiently waiting for
the sauce of
almost forgetting the place
where you stored them,
you take the palms you
had gathered up off the road
while the crowd scurried
on towards Calvary,
and with a pair of old scissors,
you slowly snip them up into
and when there is
plenty, you strike a match
and set them ablaze, your prayers rising
singing a love song, as the ashes
pile up and up, enough
to baptize us in humble
(c) 2012 Thom M. Shuman