On Ash Wednesday, we dare to speak the truth. We speak the truth not in the refreshing light of the morning but in the cold darkness of a winter’s night. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We will die. We are mortal beings and so our lives will end. Our culture has taught us to deny death. Even our funerals have become celebrations of life. But life without the reality of death is lived cheaply, shallowly, in a half-sleep always pushing away and denying reality. So, on Ash Wednesday let us revel in the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Revel in this knowledge because it liberates us!
On Ash Wednesday, the realty that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves is born out in the knowledge that we are stardust, elements of the universe molded together over eons, molded together by a force bigger than we can even begin to imagine, a force we call God, whom we have come to know is LOVE. LOVE breathed into the timeless elements and from the dust our ancestors emerged. Each one of us lives and breathes and has our being as a result of the confluence of so many miracles we shall never be able to count. The LOVE who is God lives and breathes in with through and beyond us.
I have only words to describe the brilliant beings that each of you are. The splendor of what has emerged from the dust and what shall return to the dust is magnificent. That magnificence is made all the more spectacular with the knowledge that it is fleeting. The knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return liberates us from delusions of grandeur for we know that this spectacular, magnificent, life that we are currently experiencing will end and we shall die. There’s an Irish expression that I have come to love, it translates from the Gaelic into something like: “We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years and we have only a short time here; a brief collection of moments. If that isn’t motivation for each and every one of us to live everything that is within us, then perhaps we have already died.
So, much of what passes for life in the 21st century is merely a distraction from the reality that we shall die. Preoccupied by our distractions we forget that we are part of something so much bigger than our minds can grasp. Each one of us was billions and billions and billions of years in the making and each and every molecule of who and what we are will continue to be for billions and billions and billions of years to come.
Who and what we are is beyond our ability to comprehend. We are part of something so much bigger than we can imagine. This small part of that reality this little piece that we call our life is a precious part of reality. If there is a sin that we must all confess, it is the sin of a life unlived. Our overwhelming fear of the unknown causes so many of us to settle for less. We cannot know what or how eternity shall unfold so we settle for something smaller, something more manageable and we live within the confines of what makes us feel safe. We dare not risk the temptation to wonder at the enormous reality of which we are all a part. We dare not begin to imagine how infinitesimal our time in this part of reality shall be. So, we settle for less, less wondering, less imagining, less dreaming, less reality, less life, and yes even less eternity.
On Ash Wednesday, the liberating knowledge that none of the distractions that make us feel safe can separate us from the truth that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, ought to at the very least empower us to live fully, here and now. On Ash Wednesday, we sit with the power of our own death to return us to the dust from whence we came. We spend a few moments mourning the missed opportunities, the failures and the pain and we talk a long, slow, deep, cleansing breath; a breath that reminds us of the first breath, the ruach of which our ancestors spoke, the breath, wind, spirit, that first breathed life into our dust-formed self; the breath, wind, spirit, that breathes even now, in, with, through, and beyond us, and we trust that that breath, wind, spirit, ruach comes from the Reality that lies at the very heart of all that is, the reality that we call God, the reality that we know is LOVE.
In and out we breathe, trusting that the One who is LOVE will breath in, with, through, and beyond us so that when our life here comes to its inevitable end, all that lies Beyond the Beyond, and Beyond that also will receive our dusty selves into the LOVE which is God.
Such freedom. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Such liberation. Let us live fully, here and now, savoring each and every moment of this wondrous life. Let us not settle for anything less than the magnitude of each and every moment. For we are dust, molded and shaped by LOVE, for LOVE, and to the dust we shall return. We are part of something so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. We are wonderfully and fearfully made, fit for life, here and now. We shall all die, return to the dust and there are billions and billions and billions of years to come. Our part in those years is a mystery; a mystery beyond our ability to begin to imagine.
Embrace eternity if you dare. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return and rejoice in the freedom that the knowledge of our death brings; the freedom to live fully here and now. Let it be so, dear friends. Let it be so!
Ash Wednesday homilies:
Evolution – There’s No Going Back here
Embracing Mortality: a reflection here
We Are ONE here