You Are Dirt. And You’re Going To Be Dirt.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

That’s depressing as hell. “Happy Ash Wednesday!” Said no one, ever.

These words, at the heart of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, are abrupt and harsh. They force us to think about that which we normally spend time and energy avoiding—death. We don’t like being reminded that we’re mortal, that there’s this looming end for us, that our lives will cease to be.

Our fear of death leads us to find ways to mask our mortality. We pay for makeup, anti-aging creams, hair dyes, and medical procedures that we hope will make us look younger. We laugh at death when we joke about our age. Ha! This birthday I got an AARP card invitation in the mail. Time to use that senior discount! We entertain ourselves with sacry movies that are about out running death.

Ash Wednesday cuts through all that deflection and says, “You are dirt, and you are going to be dirt.”

But then the liturgy immediately offers more, “Repent and believe the gospel.”

“Repent” literally means “turn around and go the other way.” In this context (and really in every context), repent means to stop being afraid. You might associate repentance with sin and think that to repent means to stop sinning. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that fear is at the heart of all sin.

So repent, stop being afraid, and believe the gospel. What is the gospel?

See, I’ve already lost so many friends at this point in this post, because the post is just too churchy. So many people I know want nothing to do with Christianity, and rightfully so. The church, which claims to house the faith, has hurt them too long and too deeply for them to see words like “repent” or “sin” or “the gospel.” Frankly, I somewhat count myself among them.

It’s sad. Because if you strip away all of the religiosity and church trappings, “the gospel” simply means “love.”

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Means…

“Yeah, you’re going to die. Stop being afraid of it and love instead.”

I’d much rather spend my life loving and being loved than being afraid. Wouldn’t you?

Happy Ash Wednesday, indeed.

2 thoughts on “You Are Dirt. And You’re Going To Be Dirt.

  1. I have a ‘bent box’ in my office; I see it every day. Someday my ashes will reside in it. I also have a refrigerator magnet of the Point Betsie Lighthouse on Lake Michigan; it is where my ashes will be scattered. Each is a daily reminder I will someday (soon?) be ashes so make life well.

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