40 Days of Building on Faith: Ash Wednesday

During this Lent season we encourage you to reflect on the blessings in your life and how you can serve others.


By Eddie Turner

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” — Genesis 3:19, NRSV

One of the oddities of churchgoing is that many of us voluntarily go to a place — even donate money to keep it running — and then on Ash Wednesday someone stands and tells us, “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” The nerve! That sounds like the words of a movie villain, or at least an angry driver. (“You’re dust, buddy!”) When I hear the phrase repeated in the Ash Wednesday service, it rattles around in my head for a few days. It is so starkly different from the other messages we often hear. What about all that hard work that has gone into building our self-esteem and encouraging our children to believe in themselves? The dichotomy reminds me of a Lydia Davis story, in which she writes, “How does a person learn to see herself as nothing when she has already had so much trouble learning to see herself as something in the first place?”  This pronouncement that we will return to dust challenges any self-importance we might harbor, challenges our fragilely constructed dignity, and it certainly challenges our long-term plans. Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent, calls us to cast off our pretensions and to approach the season with an appropriate measure of solemnity. In the moment of receiving the ashes, we are reminded of our fate. However, the imposition of the ashes with the sign of the cross reminds us that we have hope. We are not helpless or without worth. We have a savior, and through Habitat for Humanity, we have amazing opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we build homes, communities and hope.

Father, we thank You for this season of reflection. Give us unflinching vision for our own mortality and humility, and give us fearlessness to cast off pretensions and false independence. Ground us in Your love, Your power and Your strength that flows out without conditions or boundaries. Amen.