What God Can Do Within the Dust

The season of Lent begins with a grittiness. Ashes made from last year's palm branches form a rough and imperfect symbol upon our foreheads. The gritty cross reminds us of our own mortality and sin before God, but also points us toward the way of
reconciliation and ultimate redemption.

The beautiful poems below highlight this paradox of Ash Wednesday - the reality of death, and the hope of new life. May they deepen your experience of Ash Wednesday and enrich your Lenten journey.


Blessing the Dust

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

 - Jan Richardson


Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

 - Walter Brueggemann


A Poem for Ash Wednesday

Will stopping this Wednesday to receive
the sign of the cross in dirty ash
Upon tired foreheads really make a difference
Mark us for a moment, a season, a lifetime?

Will this emblem on our own skin
Soak in where words have not
and choices have not?

I wonder at its hope and purpose.

People of candle flame and tongues of fire,
Walkers on water who have dipped
beneath the cleansing surface,
Taking a night to dabble in oily ash and stain.

Would that Sunday, yet two months away,
dawn at all, if not as bright,
with trumpet call to new life if we could not
stand in this other truth, as true
as resurrection but more gritty?

Does its honest presence make the revelation
The breath, the rising sun possible
We stand with grimy hands, flinching,
Drawing back from the itchy sensation
Of ash and oil and human nature.

Holding ourselves still
And breathing deeply until, we can be,
wholly in this grubby skin,
Waiting, with creation for the water and the flame.

Tossing scraps of paper sin into a smoky burner
Watching as they are consumed,
disintegrate and rise,
Prayers for healing, longing, hope, to God.

We laugh, upside down and unrelenting,
A laugh like Easter morning.

 - Lisa M.Caldwell-Reiss


Rend Your Heart

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering
for trusting the breaking
for tracing the tear
that will return you

to the One who waits
who watches
who works within
the rending
to make your heart

 - Jan Richardson