There is something about Ash Wednesday that I just love. It's not a familiar service as it was something that my Catholic friends did. They came to school with ashen smudge marks on their foreheads. I never really understood it then, and it didn't help that none of these friends never really knew what those ashes were about.
It wasn't until seminary that I first participated in an Ash Wednesday service. It was my first year in seminary that I received that ashen mark upon my own forehead. The service was powerful. I remember that unique affirmation that was tangible in the ashen mark upon my forehead. Yes, I was dust. I would return to dust. I would always be part of God's living, breathing creation. And no matter if I am dust or will be dust, God loves me. God created me from dust and God will lovingly mingle me with the dust of my ancestors in death. I'm not sure how to articulate how powerful this was for me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Ash Wednesday arrives so close to my mother's anniversary. That reminder made it easier. It gave me peace. It soothed my soul.
So, I wouldn't wipe that ashen cross off my forehead. I would wear it out into the city (and I went to seminary in New York City). I would wear it on the subway, on the bus, down the street. It was an obvious demonstration of my faith, though it was often assumed that I was Catholic. I remember one homeless man challenging me on why I had the ashes on my forehead and I remember explaining to someone on the subway why my face was dirty (after she had tried to wipe it off for me). In Girl Meets God, Lauren K. Winner talks about walking around my old neighborhood with this same demonstration. She talks about it as evangelism. It's a subtle act of evangelism, but by the brave act of wandering into the streets to declare I am a Christian. I am dust. I am loved by God -- and so are you.
I will miss this this year, as I will be leading the service tonight. I won't get to participate in a service where I am not in leadership and I won't get to attend the Episcopal service at lunchtime because of the demands of the parish. But, I will miss this today. So, I share my story hoping that it reminds you to love God's creation today and everyday.