“Remember, man, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
This is the traditional blessing as the priest distributes ashes to each Catholic on Ash Wednesday. In recent years, the Church has given the choice of another blessing to replace this one. Many use the newer blessing because it is more gender sensitive and, some feel, more uplifting.
This blessing speaks of the most basic of relationships that we, as humans, exist only because of Earth and will continue to exist only to the extent that Earth continues to live. We come from Earth, are a part of Earth, and eventually will return to Earth. Lent is a time to reflect on our relationship with Earth–the home we inhabit. The second creation story in Genesis tells us that God established this relationship between Earth and humans from the very beginning.
Reading: Gn. 2: 4b-7 “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up–for the Lord God has not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground–then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
This story recalls the special triune relationship between God, Earth, and humans. God formed us each from Earth and breathed divine spirit into us–making us both Earth-beings and God-beings. There is an unbreakable connection among God, Earth, and humans. We carry both God and Earth within every strand of our being. We are dependent not only on God, but also on Earth. In a society that values self-sufficiency, it is easy to believe that we are strong if we do not depend on anyone or anything, but striving to be independent is going against our very nature. We have been dependent on God and Earth from the very beginning. To the extent that we humbly recognize this dependence and live in respectful and loving harmony with both parts of our essences, we become more fully human and will encounter holiness. So, spend some time this Lent not only becoming close to God, but also closer to Earth.
Reflection: What is my relationship with Earth at this moment? What would a right relationship with Earth look like for me? What are one or two simple actions I can take during this Lent to remind me that my health is dependent on Earth’s health?
Prayer: Lord God, as Lent begins, I am reminded that I am dust to to dust I shall return. You are the One who created humans as both God-beings and Earth-beings, thus placing me in an unbreakable relationship with You and with Earth. During this Lent, help me to choose actions that will enhance this precious triune relationship. Amen.
Written by Sister Kathleen Shannon, D.C.