Lent was this last Wednesday, and although I am not necessarily “practicing”, I attended a Lenten service with my roommate at an Episcopal church. There were only about 30-40 people at the service, a normal number for this particular event because, as mentioned by the Deacon, most practicing Episcopal’s don’t even bother showing up. And out of this small number of older practicing Episcopal’s, were two women in their twenties, sitting at that back, staying quiet; one of them wide eyed and attempting to follow each little ritual by constantly referring back to the pamphlet of the services activities provided upon entrance. This second woman in her twenties was I.
I especially felt this age difference when in a circle at the front of the church to receive Communion and the Ashes. Looking around the circle, all the faces that I saw were faces very different from my own; faces at least twenty to fifty years my senior.
“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” This phrase, echoed by the priest as he rubbed ashes onto our foreheads, also echoed throughout my mind as I stood and looked at the faces around me, receiving the sacrament and the statement. I couldn’t help but think of how soon these people would indeed be returning to dust. This thought sobered me as I thought on human mortality, or the mortality of all living things, for that matter. I wondered, as that older man stared back at me with the words “and to dust you shall return” echoing throughout, if he was filled with envy or resignation or joy at his own impending return to dust and, perhaps, my seemingly less immediate return. Although I know that I will not be in my 60s anytime soon, I still felt the weight of mortality around me and know that I could return to that sweet, sweet dust even before the elderly around me.
Unfortunately, the repeated and famous phrase of Lent did not exactly make the intended impression, necessarily. However, I was humbled in those moments to my humanity, but instead of making me feel my utter insignificance as opposed to the Creator’s, I felt more tangibly my union and oneness with the all life. I am dust. I am water. I am energy. I am light.
The God of the Bible, YHWH, said of himself, “I AM”, and if God exists, in whatever form, and he IS and we are part of him then WE ARE as well. As sacrilegious as that sounds, I consider it to be true. Lent, for Christians, is a time to give up worldly desires, vices, and possessions in order to be humbled and become more in unison with God. Those of us who could be considered outside of the Christian faith, in another faith or none at all, could still take something away from Lent, as I did at that service last Wednesday; just a young woman, in an unfamiliar church, with unfamiliar people and practices, but who understands that I AM.
We are dust, and to dust we shall return.