Ash Wednesday begins the Christian season of Lent. During Ash Wednesday services the priest (in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition) will mark the sign of the cross on the forehead as a reminder of both our baptisms, and our inevitable death.
Ashes are as light as air, a tiny puff of breath will lift that bowl full of burned up alleluias into a grey blizzard. Light as they are, they cling to everything. One breath and we are floured with grey that doesn’t brush away but smears into everything it touches. This is life.
Mortals, light as a feather on the wind of time. Here and gone with a breathe. But impossible to rub away, smearing into the fabric of this world, determined not to vanish. This is Ash Wednesday, drifting into our eyes, running with our sweat, gritty and real and light as air. We are no good at it. No good at being mortal, desperately clinging to the illusion that we are solid heavy beings, strong as mountains.
We fool ourselves well, surrounding our ashes with all the trappings of power and control, smearing them into the granite of time determinedly. We are different, until the rain comes and the wind laughs across the rocks and we go sailing.
This is Lent. Smearing our faces with ashes that puff and run and smear and will wash away and stick to our fingers and refuse to stay put. This is Lent, the gentle reminder that to be but a breathe, a puff, here one moment and gone the next is not fearsome but freeing.
For we are not called to be granite, not called to hold up the world. We are not powers, moving through the cosmos with heavy responsibility, lit by the stars. We are gentle grey puffs of ash. Born in a blaze of fire and light, here but a moment, and on to the next.
When we stand helpless, and empty-handed, then we are most human. And only then can we reach out and grasp the empty hands of another. This is Lent, and it is holy.
Remember, you are dust, and rejoice.