When You're in the Dust and the Ashes
It was Ash Wednesday last week, the traditional start of the Lenten season leading up to Easter. Palm crosses are burned, and the ashes are smudged into a dirty cross on sweaty foreheads; a symbolic reminder that we are from dust and to dust we shall return.
How appropriate it feels.
I can never seem to get rid of the dirt and the ashes. Like gritty grains of sand, they cling to me; in my hair, under my finger nails, in the creases of my skin. I find them in my socks, in that bag I was using at the time, in between the pages of the book I was reading. They are in my sheets, stuck to my towels, in my shampoo bottle.
Dirty, ashen smudges streak down my face. The wind catches them up, but instead of carrying them away, they are blown back into my eyes, into my mouth. I’m covered in dust I can’t remove. I can’t open my eyes. The whole world is abrasive and tastes of death.
Volcanic eruptions spew ash everywhere. Deep beneath the earth, tectonic plates shift and collide. Molten lava bubbles away furiously, pressure building and building until it can no longer be contained. A huge explosion throws everything skyward and thick, hot ash cascades down the mountain, suffocating everything in its path.
During Lent, we are invited to consider the dust and the dirt and the ashes. Where are the pressure points? What is shifting and changing right underneath us? What needs to die in this season? How will we survive when all we usually rely on to sustain us no longer works? These are painful questions. If we take them seriously, they are a form of taking up our cross and following Jesus into the wilderness.
Once the lava cools and the eruption subsides, a rich, fertile soil is left behind. The ash that was so destructive contains a large supply of the nutrients needed to support new growth. Out of the very stuff that brought death, new life springs up.
Thanks be to God.