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Ash Wednesday Reflection


“Repentance means turning toward other human beings, our own flesh and blood, whenever they’re oppressed, hungry, or imprisoned; it means acting with compassion instead of indifference.”

― Sara Miles, City of God: Faith in the Streets

Here’s the invitation:

Do what you can to speak this Hebrew word: ruach.

Speak this word aloud, or in the quiet of your mind.

As you speak it, notice the wind of breath that it creates.

As you read this, keep breathing, noticing the wind that your breath creates.


Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Remember that I am dust, and to dust I shall return.

Remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Today marks the beginning of a penitential season.

It is a season of “repentance” of metanoia, or of turning around.

Turning around to what, and for what?

This day, is complex.

It’s loaded with thousands of years of theology that wants to bring us to our knees in shame.

But, we don’t get very far with shame.

We know that shame, actually has a tendency to catapult us deeper into loneliness, isolation, competition, and anger.

So, instead of a theology of how awful we’ve become,

what if we consider,

what it means to turn back to who we really are,

and acknowledge our exhaustion in trying to be something other than what is:




In the opening lines of the first creation story,

the writer of Genesis,

poetically reminds us that:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, the darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

In the beginning, when all that was---was, and the darkness gave witness to the deep, the Spirit of God was there, seeing all of it.

The darkness is the secret place.

Perhaps, the secret place deep inside of us that needs to be seen, needs to be healed.

I have a secret place---one that is bound up in knots from encounters with suffering.

Do you have a secret place?

The Spirit of God goes there, too.

The Spirit, or the ruach,

is the breath of God.

It is the creative wind,

the same one that is in your lungs,

breathing in & out right now.

The breath of God was in the beginning, and is now with you, and will be forever.

We are created by this breath of Love,

given Life,

and are Liberated,

as we breathe

and remember this.

In the second creation story,

the writer of Genesis,

reminds us that we come from the adamah,

or--- earthbeing.

We are made from the mud,

the earthy-dusty stuff,

that sticks to children’s knees as they play outside.

The mud that clumps to soccer cleats,

and holds bricks together.

Earth-dust that,

I’ve seen blow across deserts,

and catch the salty tears of suffering.

We are made from the earthdust,

that connects all things,

the living,

and the dead.

My father died when I was 21.

He took his own life, in suicide.

I’ve never seen his body,

or his ashes.

So, I only remember him alive and vibrant.

But each time, I touch the earth

my eyes close and I know that this is where he came from,

where I’ve come from,

and we both shall be back here one day.

In touching the dust,

I honor our humanity

and our breath,

the ruach of Love,



We make a lot of choice that keep us far from believing that we are



and good.

We compete,

We isolate,

We separate ourselves from each other.

We exploit, and consume,

all so that we can gain more to fill the darkness,

that secret place inside of us,

the place of suffering.


I will get on my knees,

not in shame for who I am,

or for what I’ve done,

but because I need the reminder-

the physical act,

of drawing close to the ground.

I get on my knees,

to be close to the adamah,

the earthbeing, mud creature that we are.

I will ask for forgiveness,

for the ways that I forget that I,

and you,

and we,

are true


and good.

I will ask for forgiveness,

for the ways that I fill that secret place of suffering,

with all that keeps me from compassion.

I will ask for forgiveness,

because my breath,

needs to learn how to breathe love




And I ask for this,

with the sign of ash,

because I believe that fire, palm branches, and oil mixed together,

are material symbols,

to remind me that

transformation is near,


walking through death,

means that life is coming.

So, I will fast

and turn back to love,

turn back to life,

turn back to liberation.

I will remember that in turning back to God,

I am turning back to you-

to friends,

to neighbors,

to enemies,

to the created order-

and I am asking for help,

in saying yes,

to this new life.

Picture: The hands of Rev. Claire Brown, who will place ashes on the foreheads of many people today. Her friendship has given me the courage to turn back to the God of love, and in turn to love my self and others more deeply.

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