"Dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return."
On Ash Wednesday, many Christians will hear these words while receiving ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. It reminds us of our mortality, our finite lives, and thus calls us to appropriate humility in the face of the infinite.
But I wonder if there's another way to observe this day and the season of Lent which it inaugurates by considering where those ashes come from. I don't mean their traditional origin in last year's Palm Sunday palm fronds that are burned to ashes and mixed with oil to create an adhesive mix, but a deeper origin.
What if we think of the ashes as cosmic dust?
We are made of the stuff of stars generated billions of years ago that evolved into living things that eventually produced our species, providing a lineage that goes all the way back to the origins of the universe. And our human lineage goes back to the first beings that looked and thought and felt like us as well as future beings we will never know and who will learn and do and think greater things than we can imagine.
And within this lineage is our own personal lineage whose flesh we more directly share, parents and grandparents and ancestors, children and grandchildren and descendants.
Ash Wednesday's ashes, this cosmic dust, may remind us not only of being finite creatures, but of our seemingly infinite relations with the cosmos, with this planet and our sun and moon, with all of earth's creatures, with humankind past and present and future. And so it may remind us of the importance of our lives: to live them well, to love abundantly, to give extravagantly.
For those of us who try to follow Jesus, Lent and Holy Week is especially a time to honor his life well lived, his sacrificial and atoning love, his gracious generosity. It's a hard act to follow, but we are called to do no less.
For we, too, are cosmic dust.
Rev. Glaser blogs weekly "Progressive Christian Reflections" at http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com
Copyright © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.