It is Tuesday, almost a week after Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t cleaned up from the Ash Wednesday service. Well, that’s not all together true; the table cloths are put away, the food stored and the floors swept, but the ashes are still out; so is the olive oil and the glass jar I used to wipe crosses on people’s foreheads. I want to put them away; I like a tidy office, but something urges me to keep them out. Maybe it is laziness, or maybe it is a sign of the season of Lent, or maybe it is a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
We say those words each Ash Wednesday. Then, like the post-service clean up at home, we wipe away the ashes from our foreheads, brush our teeth and crawl into bed, prepared for the season of Lent. Our focus turns to our dreams, where we live out the potential nightmares of how we’ll cope without chocolate or alcohol for the next six weeks; or we have beautiful, fantasy dreams of becoming a whole new person because of all the good food we’ll eat instead. Some of us are trying one of the new trends that invite us to add something to our lives this season. And those of us with kids are attempting to explain how this season works and why we give things up or add things to our lives. So we give our children “Good Deeds” charts and ask them to collect money for a worthy charity—all of these remind us that this season of forty (let’s be honest, forty-six) days is different.
I’m also looking at a book on my desk called Becoming Who You Are by James Martin, SJ. In it, Martin explores insights on the true self from Thomas Merton and other saints. It was a suggestion from Amazon so I picked it up as Lenten reading. What I’ve realized is that I like the participle in the title, “becoming”. We aren’t ever there. We are works-in-progress. So the ashes still sit on our forehead, even after they’ve been wiped clean and we’ve curled up into bed.
I think I want to keep the burnt palm branches and the olive oil and the glass jar on my desk for Lent because I’m not ready to put an ashen cross on my forehead each day—that would invite too many questions. I’m becoming something in this season; we all are. We are always becoming something that God intends. I don’t know if you are like me, but I get caught up in becoming who I want to be, or who I think God wants me to be, or who I think the best advertisers or my favorite people think I should be. I’m particularly fond of following ministers whom I want to emulate so I find myself trying to become a younger version of them.
We are all dust. And that means we’re blown around by the winds of life. We are all dust. And that means we are created from the materials God used to enliven creation. We are all dust. And that means we are brothers and sisters walking a path worn down by our Lord so it is just a little easier. We are all dust. If you forget or need a reminder, come by my office and you can see the ashes, olive oil and glass jar; I’ll even mix them up for us if you want.