a journey of returning

ash-wednesday1.jpgWe are entering the season that begins with a smudge. That smudge is a testimony to what survives. It is a witness to what abides when everything seems lost. It is a sign that what we know and love may, for a time, be reduced to dust, but it does not disappear. We belong to the God who well knows what to do with dust, who sees the dust as a place to dream anew, who creates from it again and again.

—Jan Richardson, from Ash Wednesday: What God Can Do with Dust
The Painted Prayerbook, February 2018

Today we begin the season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we live vulnerable and fragile lives in a vulnerable and fragile world — that we came from dust and to dust we will return. And yet, as Jan Richardson writes, this “smudge” of ash is, in fact, a symbol for what remains and what abides.

But the “smudge” represents even more, because, according to Richardson, “we belong to the God who well knows what to do with dust…” and to the God “who sees the dust as a place to dream anew” and dust as a place for divine re-creation. Lent is a time of remembering the God we belong to.

We read in Joel 2: 2:12-13: “Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

Each year at Lent, I learn a little bit more how to return to God with my whole heart. One way to return with a whole heart is releasing what is illusion and distraction, and the many things, which are not mine to carry. Perhaps a spiritual practice this Lent could be to become more aware of what I am being invited to lay down each day, and pray for the courage and grace to do so.



Many people fast during Lent — in various ways and for various reasons. In a reflection of Christine Valters Paintner, she explores a slightly different take on fasting. She writes, “the kind of fast drawing me this season isn’t leaving behind of treats like chocolate or other pleasures. This season I am being invited to fast from things like “ego-grasping” and noticing when I so desperately want to be in control, and then yielding myself to a greater wisdom than my own.” You can read her reflection by clicking on the link below:

Letting Go During Lent: Seeing Death as our Friend

I would like to end by sharing Jan Richardson’s reflection on how God blesses the dust:

Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

—Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.


May we travel together this Lent, with hope and boldness, “claiming what God can do within the dust.”

traveling with each of you in love ~


1 thought on “a journey of returning

  1. jedwar02

    I just returned yesterday from a few days of writing at the Trappist abbey in Virgina. I love the quiet. It is surrounded by farmland and one of the only sounds you can hear are the cows. I love the rhythm of the liturgy of the hours and how everything becomes so simple and focused when you just follow that rhythm of the day. I miss it very much already. My life at home feels full of so much clutter. So many things need tending. How do I live Lent in this space? What can I fast from? Dear God, will you help me to find focus and simplicity of heart? I do not know where to start.


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