“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Those words were uttered each Ash Wednesday of my childhood as we would line up for the distribution of ashes at our Catholic grade school. I remember blinking as the bits of ash were rubbed into my forehead, trying nonchalantly to blow away the few specks that made their way down my face, and hoping they didn’t end up in my eyes. I couldn’t wait to get home and find a mirror to see for myself how much of a smudge was above my eyebrows. One by one, our family would come home from school, work or sports practice and compare our stamps of faith.
At my church now as the imprint of the cross is drawn with ashes on our foreheads, the spoken words have changed to “Turn away from sin and believe in the gospel.” The newer wording definitely is more positive, less frightening for kids (and adults) and inspires the kind of renewal that the season of Lent is all about.
However, there is something about the dust, about the essence of what is true and purified by a lifetime (however many years it may be) of living and loving that does appeal to me. I like the earthiness of the ashes marking my forehead and reminding me of God’s nurturing soil that can take my dust and bring about new life and a fresh start. This Ash Wednesday I am feeling a sort of gravitational pull toward this master gardener, to spend time tilling the soil of my soul–to see what needs a little more watering or pruning or just patience to see what God can unearth in me. Again, that seems to me much of what Lent is about, making more time to be still, to be grounded in the essence of His love, close to the earth, to the roots of who we were made to be.
So I begin this lent with the intention for more quiet listening, which hopefully will spill over to our dinner time. As we sit down to share our daily meals, incorporating the few small dietary sacrifices, I hope to also invite an openness to really listening to one another. I have noticed that at the end of the day when hungry and tired people gather around the table, conversations are sometimes one-sided as daily struggles are shared or texts start pinging, interrupting a story. We often share dinner via Facetime with our adult children living in different cities, so it is hard for me to totally rule out electronics at the dinner table, but I have also witnessed that our own agendas and schedules can also distract us from hearing each other. And then other times there is just this silence between bites that I often feel I need to fill with questions or updates. Instead, I am going to work on embracing the occasional silence, acknowledging that perhaps a pause in conversation will allow thoughts to take shape and be shared from the heart. I can listen to the story about a coworker with more compassion and interest, and turn off the ringers on phones. Quieting my own chatter, will hopefully invite the Holy Spirit to sprinkle our conversation with love and laughter– truly the best ingredients to any meal!!