I thought that even though yesterday was Ash Wednesday I would offer a day-later reflection.
I didn’t grow up with Ash Wednesday. I didn’t grow up in a church that celebrated the liturgical calendar. In some ways I’m grateful for that, so that I don’t feel jaded by these rich and deep traditions. I know that some of you are, and I apologize that they’ve become so pedestrian and loaded with baggage.
However, this year more than ever – ash matters.
The celebration of Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. The root word for Lent means “springtime.” In Chicago, springtime is also known as “escape.” We crawl out of our warm dens in parkas and shorts (if we must) and begin to reclaim life as a human being with other human beings.
Springtime is a time of change, of shifting, of transformation. Death comes back to life. Lent and crucifixion go hand in hand, like dead grass and bony arching trees, only that way until life breaks through the greylight and things begin to grow again.
This year, transformation is desperately needed. More or less than other years? I don’t know, I won’t compare, but what I will say is that there is a great deal of broken spread around us.
We are broken racially, so overwhelmed by the racial divide that we can’t even see it any more. The fish ignorant of the water, so to speak.
We are broken politically, being forced to the edges and to the poles out of fear and anger and uncertainty.
We are broken relationally, struggling to come to terms with people of differing faiths and statuses – we fear immigrants and refugees because we fear our own loss. We fear people. Period. We fear them because we’re being fed fear as fact and information.
This year, maybe more than ever – ash matters.
The ash symbolizes our root – we are born of the soil, the earth, the common ground that accepts nor rejects based on political posturing or socio-economic background or religious conviction.
We are born of the soil that grows corn for white and black, gay and straight, pro-life and pro-choice, terrorist and peacemaker alike.
To that soil we will return. All of us, and that’s why ash matters.
If we grasp this concept of Ash Wednesday we’re reminded not only of our humanness, but our joint humanness.
Ash is grey, with hints of dark. It is material reduced to its most simple element.
The Hebrew language had a word for people who were common, simple, and even though it became an insult over time it is helpful to the way we see our place in the world.
Am’ ha’aretz – the people of the land. The people of the very soil.
We are all dust. We are all common and hold all in common, we are grey in the sense that at our core we are all the same.
Created from dust.
Cultivated and loved by a creator.
Returning to dust just the same.
So as this time of “spring” – of Lent – begins, we should think on the ash of our lives. We should hold it together, learning to release our fears and suspicions. We should share our common need for crucifixion and resurrection – both us and our enemies – and know that our joint need creates a moment of beauty.
If we’ll allow it.
If we’ll stop praising "straight-shooters" who claim that their dust is a little less dusty than others.
If we’ll stop fearing our fellow dust because we’re told to do so.
If we’ll stop assuming that our motives are pure, while the motives of others are not.
If we’ll remember, remember, remember – ash matters.