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pondering dust and ashes

March 18, 2011

Last week’s mid-day Ash Wednesday Mass was more solemn than usual.  It was more like a daily mass as there was no choir or alter servers.  I didn’t mind.  I found the stark atmosphere quite fitting for the commencement of Lent.  Besides, no choir meant I didn’t have to sing the Ashes song.  Of course, after hearing that droll tune every Ash Wednesday for the past 31 years, guess what was in my head as I made my way up the aisle to receive ashes?

I tried to meditate on something other than the ambiguous verses flowing through my brain.  I repeated to myself over and over the words uttered by the priest when he lifted his hand to traced the cross on my forehead:  Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.  Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. In the foreground of my mind was this Ash Wednesday litany, but in the background was still the Ashes song: We rise again from ashes, from the good we fail to do.  We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew.  If all our world is ashes then must our lives be true.  An offering of ashes, an offering to you. I was amazed at how contradictory the two sounded side-by-side, and yet we hear them simultaneously each year.

It was easier to focus on the familiar tune and it’s words of “doing” rather than the simple phrase of “being” used by the priest.  While I’m called to have an active faith, I often get caught up in what I am doing and forget to be still.  Ash Wednesday is a liturgical reminder of my nothingness.  It is a yearly reminder to “Be still before the Lord and wait on Him” (Psalm 37: 7).  Since Lent is not about what is easy, I forced myself to embrace my nothingness through the simplicity of Ash Wednesday Mass: Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

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