Ashes, Dust and Stardust
“…you are dust and to dust you shall return…” – Genesis 3:19
Mid-Lent is a good moment to remember Ash Wednesday.
On Ash Wednesday last year we walked around Washington Square Park asking people if they wanted a prayer and ashes. A remarkable number said yes. We also offered ashes and prayer, down and dirty, quick and easy, during our Bailout Theater to about 200 people who were there for the food and the show. A remarkable number also said yes. They actually stood in line to receive in the four corners of the sanctuary. They were Catholic, Protestant, Jews, as well as highly representative of that marvelous category, “None of the Above.” The blessing we used said, “Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust.”
I wish I had the capacity to survey the receivers and find out why they said yes to prayer and ashes. Were they play-acting? Trying to be a part of the other people with dirt on their faces, more intentionally and more spiritually? Or is there such a thing as spiritual yearning, yearning that doesn’t want to be hypocritical or insincere, above all not to be so about God? Does this yearning just want to wear ashes and observe mortality on a regular, annual basis? Whatever it does, whatever it is, a surprising number of people say yes.
The Message version of the Bible says, “You started out as dirt and you will end up as dirt.” The pessimism of Lent wears me out. The stardust and the yearning does not.
God of life and death, stardust and dust, ashes and prayer, draw near and bring us out of dust into stardust. Engage us with our own mortality and make of us the Aurora Borealis. Amen
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her latest book is Prayers for People Who Say They Can’t Pray.