In my family, we didn’t do much in the way of observing Lent. It was a bit too liturgical for the church I grew up in, and as kids, our focus was solely on frilly dresses and white patent leather shoes, and OF COURSE, Easter baskets and bunnies and the goodies that would leave me on a perpetual sugar high for a month.

Needless to say, Ash Wednesday definitely didn’t show up on our calendar, either. And to this day, I’ve never actually participated in a public Ash Wednesday service. But I have to admit, my heart has been so drawn to the symbolic themes it embodies – the solemn recognition of our full-circle connection to the dust (Gen. 3:19, “for you are dust and to dust you shall return”) and the corporate repentance for our sins.

Why not observe a sacred assembly of hearts where we collectively come clean?

Joel 2:12-13 reminds us:

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

As an adult, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the contemplative nature of Lent – the idea of coming to terms with the human condition and acknowledging my own culpability in it – owning up to and mourning the need for a Savior before celebrating His resurrection with great joy. It gives Easter morning context and gravity. It reminds us of what we’ve been saved from – what our condition would be without the sacrifice. It invites us a bit closer to death so that we can celebrate life. Oddly enough, my soul is okay with that – digging in the dirt, getting my hands dirty in the mess of me.

Today I will sit in the dust – with fasting and weeping and mourning. I will rend my heart and set my face on the Lord my God who saved me from my wretched state. I will return to the Lord with all my heart and bask in His grace and mercy, ever thankful that He loves us lavishly in spite of it all.

Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? As the season of Lent arrives, what blessing do you need to claim from the ashes?


All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

From Jan Richardson’s “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons”

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