Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Driving through Nigeria in the middle of the Harmattan, I am struck by the starkness of the landscape. Everything is dry, dust is like a heavy film everywhere on everything. At first it is hard to breath; then your nostrils and lungs become use to it. There is hardly the sight of green anywhere. Experiencing this barren, starkness reminds me that Lent is approaching. Ash Wednesday is at hand and the marking of foreheads with dusty ashes in the shape of a cross will soon take place.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday was always an intense time for me as a congregational pastor. It was the day when there was a steady stream of people coming into the church. There was usually two services, one at noon and then one in the evening.  In between the services, random people who hadn’t been to church in a long while would come in and ask “pastor can I get some ashes.” Why would anyone want to be reminded of their mortality?

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

The day was particularly challenging and emotional during the part of the worship liturgy when the young people would come to the altar rail. Children that I had baptized,  teenagers that I had confirmed, would come–even mothers would bring their small babies to have that cross of ash etched on their foreheads. It was a solemn moment for me, these were my kids, and here I was reminding them of the inevitability of …. well you know. Using my thumb to mark this cross on their foreheads was different than marking a tiny forehead with oil at baptism. It was different than that fragrantly traced mark that held the smell of oil of clove and cinnamon and signaled a beginning–an entering into a new life. This dusty stark mark was a reminder of death.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

As I sit writing, the reality that we are fragile, mortal human beings is right in my face. I am thinking of and praying for those who I have come to know in this short time working globally and how many of them are experiencing the fragility of life. I think of those who are holding the hands of loved ones attempting to stare down disease and sickness. I pray for those who are experiencing the struggle of getting to the other side of hardship. Tears fill my eyes just as they did when I marked the foreheads of those babies, my children. My heart breaks at the thought ………

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Yet, as I sit in this early morning darkness, I am reminded not only of life’s fragility, but the meaning of the cross.

Yes, Ash Wednesday, the forty days of Lent serve as a time for us to remember our mortality, our fragility, our helplessness in the reality of sin and death. Yet that sign, that mark on our foreheads, that cross is a promise of life, of love of a future. Yes, we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return; we also remember the life given for us on a cross.

Driving through Nigeria, at first glance  all I can see is desert, bareness, hard solid rock formations, dust all around, but even in that dust there is new life.


I am westafricabound.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Morgan7aa@aol.com
    Mar 05, 2014 @ 00:36:43

    Dear Reverend Doctor, I just read your message. Thank you and thank you for being my cherished friend. Love always, Paula


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: