More than ashes

by Demi Prentiss

This week’s calendar oddity of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day falling on the same day was made even more poignant by the horrendous school shooting in Broward County, FL.  A reminder right in our newsfeed of the infinite colliding with the daily, as school personnel and students became heroes in daily life by doing their daily work. What a commentary on our culture, with the students remarking afterward that they knew just what to do because they had practiced so often.

Having ashes smudged on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent reminds us that we’re dust, and to dust we’ll return. For many of us, that’s a stark reminder that we’ll all die – there’s only one way out of this life. Wednesday’s shootings certainly reminded us of that!

But there’s more. Traditionally, the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are what’s left after burning the palms blessed and carried in the previous year’s Palm Sunday’s processions. That liturgy celebrates Jesus’ arrival

in Jerusalem to “Hosannas” from the crowd. Just as they would for an imperial procession, the crowd placed palm branches on the road as symbols of honor, celebration, and victory.

Pillars of Creation, Eagle Nebula

What I remember, when the ashes are placed on my forehead, is not only the palms and the celebrations and Holy Week’s subsequent betrayals. I also remember pictures from the Hubble telescope – stellar clouds of dust and ash. The very stuff we – and the entire universe – are made of. Stardust.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Not only ashes but stardust. We embody both, in every facet of the lives we live in Christ.

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