Greet the ashes

Here’s a Lent practice that might be in direct opposition to your ad algorithms:

Look in the mirror each day.
Greet the ashes.

Whether or not you will have them smeared across your face to mark the start of Lent, the signs the ashes point to are already there: The fine lines the latest creams claim to erase. The neck folds that are less elastic than they used to be. The dark spots from your last pregnancy.

My Instagram ads and yours may see these as flaws to be corrected (face yoga, anyone?). But what if these reminders of the passage of time — rather than something simply to be erased — are meant to actually remind? What if they exist to tell us something true about ourselves (we are limited) and something true about God (he is not)?

Every day of Lent, every day of the year, your wrinkles and mine whisper of a dawning reality. This skin we are wearing is wearing out. As the preacher soberly says in Ecclesiastes, “All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecc. 3:20).

Dust reminds us of our humble beginnings and our humble end. But there is good news, even here: It also speaks a better word. Our Creator began to redeem this lowly substance the moment he chose to make us from it, and it is very much like him to use what is humble for his glory.

Elsewhere in the psalms we see this word for dust (dakka) used as an adjective for a contrite spirit. Psalm 34:18 says “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Literally, he saves those who are “dust in spirit.”

Isaiah 57:15 says of God, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite (or dust-like) and lowly spirit.”

In the kingdom of God, it is good to remember that we were made from dust, that our bodies are temporary. It is good to rightly remember ourselves as lowly in the presence of a God who is holy. But it is also good to remember that this Creator God stooped down and made life where there was only dust.

When you are crushed in spirit, consider this: God makes new life from the dust. And God dwells with us in the dustiness of our desert seasons.


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