The following is the manuscript for the introduction to Lent that I will be sharing tonight at our Ash Wednesday service.

“We are animated dirt.  Soil and life joined.  From living ground we were made; to living ground we will return.”  That’s how author and scholar Diana Butler Bass puts it in her book, Grounded.

Our scriptures have a similar sentiment.  In Genesis, we read, “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

ash-wednesdayIn a recent Facebook post, Bass went on to explore this idea:  “What does it really mean that we are made from dust?  I find it shockingly beautiful – the idea that my life is drawn from the earth.  Of course, that dust is made from exploding stars and from all the life that ever existed.  It carries the memories of billions of years, of immense wisdom, of lives lived long ago.  We are connected so deeply with all that has gone before.  One day, I shall return to that dust – and my being will join with the dust.  Once, considered that a sad thought.  Now, I am amazed by it.”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day when we begin the holy season of Lent, a 40-day sojourn into the wildness of spirituality.  During the service this evening, we will hear four scripture readings.  They have been selected to connect with different ways of viewing spirituality.  You will connect with some more than other.  You will be invited to consider what those words say to you about how you can wander into the wildness of spirituality during the next 40 days plus Sundays.

And the end of the service, you will have the opportunity to come forward and participate in an ancient ritual of having ashes gently smeared onto your forehead.  As a good friend and colleague[1] has pointed out, this ritual does not have one, single meaning.  For some, it is a reminder of mortality.  For others, a sign of mourning.  For others, an honoring of the stardust of which we are all made.  For others, an acknowledgment of personal failing.  For others, an indictment of systemic and institutional injustice and our part in that.  For others, a sign of being in a community willing to face all manner of pain and suffering, and strive to address it.  And for others, there is some other meaning.

However you interpret the meaning of this ritual, and even if you don’t choose to participate, I hope it and this service will invite you into a season of connection, reflection, growth, and service.

[1] This list of meanings comes from a Facebook post by Lizann Bassham posted today (10 February 2016).