Ash Wednesday. Remember. Repent. But Remember.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!.  How familiar are these words spoken on Ash Wednesday in services around the world as believers are signed with a cross of ashes on their foreheads.   Familiar?  Yes.  But what do they really mean?  What are we being asked to remember?
Perhaps all these years, I have missed the the more subtle meaning of the ritual, the symbols, and the words.  Ashes and dust - both traditional symbols.   Remember with humility, that we, like dust, are small and our lives transient.   Ashes remind us of the need to repent - to recognize our short-comings, to be sorry for them, and to commit to a new path.  However, a closer reading of Genesis provides another, more humbling, more miraculous perspective.  This perspective carries with another call to remember - to remember that we were formed from the very breath of God.  
The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
— Genesis 2:7

And then temptation arose and we, beings formed from the very breath of God, listened to the serpent's logic and eat of the forbidden fruit.  The man blames the woman, the woman blames the snake and God blames all three.  There is a price.  Enmity between generations and snakes,  pain in childbirth, subsistence through labor and sweat until we return to the ground from which we were taken … for we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  (Genesis 3:19)

With the start of this Lenten season, I want to prayerfully consider both the ashes of repentance and the dust, given life and Spirit by the very breath of God.  Psalm 103 captures the promise and the challenge to remember, repent, and remember.

Bless the Lord, my soul;
all my being, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, my soul;
and do not forget all his gifts,
Who pardons all your sins,
and heals all your ills,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
and crowns you with mercy and compassion,
Who fills your days with good things,
so your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord does righteous deeds,
brings justice to all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
to the Israelites his deeds.
Merciful and gracious is the Lord,
slow to anger, abounding in mercy.
He will not always accuse,
and nurses no lasting anger;
He has not dealt with us as our sins merit,
nor requited us as our wrongs deserve.

For as the heavens tower over the earth,
so his mercy towers over those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
For he knows how we are formed,
remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like the grass;
he blossoms like a flower in the field.
A wind sweeps over it and it is gone;
its place knows it no more.
But the Lord’s mercy is from age to age,
toward those who fear him.
His salvation is for the children’s children
of those who keep his covenant,
and remember to carry out his precepts.

The Lord has set his throne in heaven;
his dominion extends over all.
Bless the Lord, all you his angels,
mighty in strength, acting at his behest,
obedient to his command.
Bless the Lord, all you his hosts,
his ministers who carry out his will.
Bless the Lord, all his creatures,
everywhere in his domain.
Bless the Lord, my soul!
— Psalm 103