Author Elizabeth-Anne Vanek has a wonderful poem about Ash Wednesday. In it she writes: “You thumbed grit into my furrowed brow, marking me with the sign of mortality. … And I recalled other ashes etched into my heart by those who loved too little or not at all.”
We are dust and have dust in our lives. Places where we have loved too little or been loved too little. Secrets hidden in life’s corners to collect dust.
We don’t open the door to those corners for fear that letting light shine upon that dust will reveal our true nature. It’s ironic really. We fear our dust might be our true selves, and so we hide it. And yet, we truly are dust.
We are dust, young and old.
I remember one Ash Wednesday in seminary. A classmate brought her newborn forward to be anointed with ashes. That beautiful bald little head was marked with a smudged cross. A stark symbol. This little one, who had barely learned to breathe, for all his potential was dust. And to dust he would return.
We are all dust. We all have dust. No one can escape it.
Poet W.H. Auden reflected on this: “To us as individuals, it is a cause for rejoicing that we are not alone, that all of us, irrespective of age or sex or rank or talent, are in the same boat.”
We are all in the same boat, even the children. We are promised that this is not the end of it — there are more surprises to be had. Even for the children. Yet none of us will make it through without a smudge on our brow, a sign that we are indeed all in the same boat.
But we are with the Savior, who loves us enough to become dusty and to show us that this life, with all its dark corners, is redeemed and beautiful in the hands of a God who loves.
Even the children.
Especially the children.
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers