Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I did not grow up with the liturgical calendar, but oh, how have I grown to love it. There is something beautiful in being carried along by its current and in knowing that its waves carry so many others alongside me. Orienting myself towards something other than the dailiness of life gives everything a different sort of texture and depth. Lent comes with some shadows and darkness as we turn towards the reality our own fragile mortality and pull back the curtains on the limits of the things we cling so tightly to, turn again towards Christ’s suffering and death (though we know resurrection lies just beyond it), and along the way, we hope to deepen our reliance on and connection to God through the practices we commit to or things we choose to give up.
As Lent arrives this year, I already feel almost too aware of the frailty and mortality of these bodies we inhabit and of the fault lines in all the things we reach out to for rescue. My daughter is sick and struggling against a disease that will probably win one day (hopefully a long, long, long time from now), and right now it seems like nothing is helping to get her on solid ground again or give her relief. Right now it takes no effort to close my eyes and feel the things I am grasping for dissolve into dust in my hands, because it keeps happening. It is not an easy season to be in and I can’t look ahead 40 days and know dazzling brightness and resurrection waits right there for us, though I desperately wish that I could. I watch for signs of it every single day.
Tonight as I sat in our quiet, gentle service remembering that I am dust and will return to dust, it felt like an exhale, like every particle of me that is working so hard to hold themselves together was able to let go for a few moments, to remember that I am not actually holding myself together. I do not have to do that. I am dust, dust that God breathed life into. I did not pull these atoms together and I am not the one who holds them where they now sit. God does. God holds each of us together, on the days when it is easy not to fall apart and on the days when every one of our particles feels pulled apart by unbearable force. Thanks be to God.
And so I think maybe that is what I’m going to give up for Lent; the constant striving to hold myself together, the forced okayness, the idea that if I let go a little the whole thing comes hopelessly unraveled. I think it will be something I’ll have to practice; a minute or two, a half hour, maybe even a whole day in time, but to cease striving, to unclench my fists, to let go of it all for even a few moments each day so I can be reminded that I am not what holds me together feels like a thing worth practicing for a while. I am indeed dust, but dust that is held tightly, gently, lovingly in the palm of God’s hand. And so are you.