Think on These Things: Dust and ashes

I fill my days with tasks and appointments. I need Lent and I suspect others do, too

Reb. Brian Krushel, Clearwater United Church

Life can be complicated. Life can be messy. Life can be demanding. Sometimes all those complications, messes and demands can get the best of a person and life can suddenly become a burden. The demands put on us by others, the expectations we have of ourselves, the overloaded schedule, it can all become too much for us.

What do we do when that happens? We try to keep up; but when we discover that we can’t, some of us re-double our efforts (to different degrees of success) and some of us give in or give up.

Why does life have to be so complicated, so messy and so demanding? Is it just the nature of modern life that our lives have become so stressed and over-burdened? Or perhaps it is more our human nature than it is anything else to stretch ourselves to the limit in an attempt to find meaning and purpose in life. French philosopher Rene Descartes may have famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” but many modern people don’t believe it and instead live by the motto, “I do, therefore I am.”

Last week, the Christian season of Lent began on a day known as Ash Wednesday. On that day, an ancient ritual is enacted whereby a cross is marked on the forehead of the faithful with ashes. As that cross is being smudged, words are spoken, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” What a strange thing to do!

Strange and yet oddly compelling at the same time. I don’t mind this annual reminder of my limitations and mortality. I appreciate an intentional time like this to get my mind off of the many things that distract and occupy me and to which I look for meaning so that I can centre myself in Meaning itself. I need this time to re-orient and re-focus so I can clear my eyes of the glaze of indifference and apathy which comes from situation after situation where I feel nearly helpless. I need Lent.

If this all sounds a little odd and counter-cultural, maybe that’s because it really is. In a world where more is better than less, bigger is more desirable than smaller and moving is preferred to standing still, Lent and the contemplations that come with it seem very foreign.

But that is the gift in it. It is a gift for all those who are starved for meaning, for comfort, for courage and for life. I need this time as a way to remind myself of who I really am. I am not the sum total of my accomplishments and achievements, I am not defined by what I have or accumulate. My worth is not measured by how well I fill my days with tasks and appointments. I need Lent and I suspect others do, too.


This is a time to be still and silent so that I can hear once again who I really am. I am dust, and all pretences and posturing fall away. I am dust, breathed into by God, given life by God, loved by God. I am dust with all the limitations and freedoms that implies. I am dust and one day that dust will be delivered into the hands of the one who first formed this dust into a human being. It’s not complicated. I am dust, and I am happy to be.