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Originally published in the Castlegar News on February 9, 2023 (Page A13)

This year my birthday lands on Ash Wednesday. 

This is the day of the Christian calendar we mark foreheads with ashes as a reminder of our mortality. Cue the party hats and streamers!

The coincidence of this day celebrating my birth with a day reminding me of my mortality has got me thinking. I’ve been reflecting on how weird it is to hold these things in tension. It also has me thinking about what I want written on my birthday cake. “Remember you are dust” and “You’re going to die” are both current contenders. 

It’s got me thinking about the ways in which I understand this day and the season of Lent—a forty-day journey through darkness and shadows that ultimately will lead us to the joy of Easter (but not quite yet). 

Over the last few years, my Lenten practice has evolved from giving things up, to taking things on, to seeing it as an opportunity to become more grounded in life. More grounded in relationships with others. More grounded in relationship to the earth. More grounded in relationship to Creator. 

On Ash Wednesday, as I apply ashes to peoples’ foreheads, I mark them with the sign of the cross, saying “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Too often when I think of dust, I think of that substance covering my bookshelves after a few weeks of neglect. This year I’ve found myself reframing this to help me understand the depths of what we are saying. 

For indeed, what we are really saying is “remember you come from the earth, and to the earth you shall return.” Framing this ancient practice in this way grounds me in a new way.

It reminds me that I have but one life to live. And yet part of the wisdom of this ancient tradition is the reminder that we are an integral part of a larger whole. 

The Creation story in Genesis tells us that humanity is created in and for love. In the beginning, God breathes life into the earth, looks upon us earth creatures, giggles with glee, and proclaims, “this is good—you are good—you are so very, very good.” 

This reminds me that at the very core of who we are, we are deeply and intimately connected to God and all living things—we have been from the beginning. We are invited to honour those relationships in word and actions. Sometimes we fall short, and so we ask for forgiveness, turn from those things that cause harm, and seek to walk in a good way with God and others on the land.

As we begin to notice these deep connections and begin to believe our inherent goodness, we find freedom from the lies that our social feeds, marketers, even religious institutions tell us when they say that we are inherently flawed, broken, and undesirable, and that the only way to find worth is to buy into whatever’s being sold. 

In some ways, Ash Wednesday is an antidote to all this. It is an ancient rite of remembrance. It helps us to remember that we are God’s beloved and calls us to turn from anything that denies life for us and for others. It calls us to pay special attention to those pushed to the margins. The mark of ashes puts us on an ancient path that both affirms us in our belovedness and invites us to be a sign of that reality for those who don’t yet believe it for themselves. 

When, on my birthday, I have the chance to mark people with ashes at our noon-hour service or passers-by in the evening with our streetside Ashes-To-Go, I will look them in the eye and remind them of their beloved mortality. 

“Remember you are from the earth,” I’ll say. And something like this, “remember you are God’s beloved child. You always have been. You always will be. Perhaps it’s been hard to believe at times. Perhaps you’ve been told something different, but God’s grace is for everyone, God’s love is for you, I promise it’s true.” 

As you step into this Lenten season, my prayer is that no matter what you are facing, no matter your life circumstances, you have someone to remind you that you are God’s beloved. If you need that kind of reminder, reach out. Join us at St. David’s for our Ash Wednesday service or receive Ashes-To-Go. Let’s remind each other that we are God’s beloved, and that this will never change.