Earth and Wind
I love Ash Wednesday, which is admittedly an odd thing to love. The message of the day is that we are dust. We are frail. We are fallen. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” One might as well play the Sufjan Stevens song that ends with refrain “We’re all gonna die / We’re all gonna die / We’re all gonna die.” I heard that song once playing in a bookstore. I looked around to see if anyone noticed our mortality was calling to us over the P.A. system. It was one strangely dark moment.
Ash Wednesday is not that bleak. There is the promise of Easter and resurrection on the other side of the Lenten wilderness. And perhaps that, besides my nerdery about the church, is why I love Ash Wednesday so much. It is this collision between reality and hope, fallenness and grace, death and life, the end and the beginning. It is this beautiful, complicated paradox that for some reason seems truer than true to me.
So as a minister I am not always sure what to say when I take the ash and make a cross on someone’s forehead. This is only the third year in which I have had this honor and I have said something different each year. I do not want to merely say that someone is dust and to dust they will return. It is an essential reminder, but it is not the entire story on this day. And I do not want to merely remind someone that God loves them. For to ignore the reality that we are dust removes all the bass notes that grounds that amazing reminder.
What I want to say is a series of lines from the song “I Am Mountain” written by Michael and Lisa Gungor:
Momentary carbon stories
from the ashes, filled with Holy Ghost
Life is here now, breathe it all in
let it all go
You are earth and wind
I would probably get some odd looks. And my line would take longer. But I love that picture. You are earth and wind. You are this human being here for but a short time and you are also filled with the breath of God and thus of immense value. We are earth and wind.
What I said was not as poetic. As I drew the cross on countless foreheads and a few hands, I told them “You are dust and Christ loves you more than you can imagine.” I tried to say names where I could. It is not the same as “You are earth and wind” but I don’t want to discount the reminder of our finitude and God’s great love for us.
I am thankful for this day and for this season. I am thankful for the needed reminder that I will one day be dust and yet Christ still loves me. I am earth and wind.