Today is Ash Wednesday, and with it comes the stark reminder that we are dust...and to dust we shall return. Scientists tell us that everything we are, and everything in the universe, originated from stardust, the remnants of dying and exploding stars. And, each day, stardust nourishes our soil, the food we eat, and the air we breathe, making us over and over again...allowing us to think, to feel, to move, to grow, to care. The practices of Lent - fasting, prayer, almsgiving and reconciliation - are rooted in awareness of these humble beginnings.
Fasting and weeping reminded me then, as they remind me today, that I am dust.... beautiful, shimmering stardust.... but still dust. The breath of God animates this dust. Breathing in, I say “yes,” breathing out, I say “thank you.”
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning.” We hear these words from the Book of the Prophet Joel today. These are not things we do easily on command, but they come unbidden, with gut wrenching ache, when caring for a loved one. The weeks before and during my husband started on home hospice care, I could not eat. My attention was totally focused on making sure his pain medicine was regular and effective, providing water, preventing falls, and preparing something he could eat; listening, watching, observing for signs of change or pain. In between care giver visits and phone calls I wept tears of anxiety and fear, anger and sadness, helplessness and eventually tears of acceptance.
Fasting and weeping do have a way of bringing us home, reminding us who we are, and whose we are. They empty us out. And, if we are attentive, this emptiness provides space for God. In this space we awaken to the beauty and wonder that we are. Once we stop trying to make things better or different, we awaken to Christ within.