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.
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.