I have given up my palm cross that has been tucked in the corner of my car dashboard as a kind of good luck charm. It's off to be burned and made into ashes. So, if I get a speeding ticket during Lent, y'all will know why!
There was a bit of magic involved in having had that cross with me, beyond just superstitions about "good luck", like a rabbit's foot. In a way, it has served as an outward and visible sign of what is internal and invisible, known to me on one level... and God at many layers. And it's been in a place in my car where I will see it, and reflect upon it. One of the hallmarks of this journey I'm on has been the odd times of day and places where I find myself contemplating God and the way God has become ever-present. Red lights seem to be particularly good times for me to make connections between my observations of the world and how Scripture speaks to whatever it is that's happening, not in a factual way, but almost like a poetic commentary, and definitely not linear.
That's how I'm feeling as I approach Ash Wednesday. Whatever is stirring inside me seems to be poetic and non-linear. I was contemplating the imposition of ashes. Instead of retracing the cross made on our foreheads at baptism with oil, a priest will be reminding us that "you are dust and to dust you shall return" as the sign of the cross is made with the ash of the palm crosses. This is a moment when we've been conditioned to remember that we are going to die, we are lowly, we are sinners, etc. etc. All of these things are true. But there is another truth that seems to belie the tracing of the cross on our foreheads. We are being re-membered, even in our mortality, to Christ. The oil at baptism, which is invisible, now becomes a visible marker on us that we belong to this body of Christ's people. There can be no doubt of that.
As this rattled around in my head, it struck me that instead of seeing this as an imposition, this moment in the Ash Wednesday service is another anointing. Again, I'm being made whole and being brought closer to God through, in and with Christ. I may be dust, but that dust is imbued with a spirit. And that spirit has been sealed and marked as Christ's own forever... again. With this cross comes responsibility to live into the commandment to love God with all my heart, with all my strength and with all my mind. If I am following that, then it naturally flows to what Christ was giving as a new commandment in John's gospel: to love one another as I have loved you. When we see the light of God in everyone, and treat them with the love that God has shown us, we are bringing ourselves full circle to "loving God". This requires a surrendering of the Ego, that desire to see our selves only... separate and apart from all that is around us. It requires an understanding that while we may be great... we are made greater in God. We are made stronger in God. And we are made brighter in God.
John Lennon's "Instant Karma" has in the chorus, "Well we all shine on! Like the moon and the stars and the sun!" Maybe then we are really stardust. And perhaps this Lent, I am to realize that through this anointing and remembering in Christ, what may be weak and lowly is again revived through the power of the spirit.
Bless the Lord, all my soul
And all that is within me,
bless his Holy Name.