Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Ash Wednesday Liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer, p.265).
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with these chilling words. Ashes and dust are a reminder of our immortality. They also remind us that our like our origin; our destiny is not in our control alone. The idea that we are dust and that we will return there seems harsh and depressing.
This past Sunday, The Rev. Barbara Mraz preached at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in St. Paul. Her sermon was entitled, “Remember What the Creator Can Do With Dust.” Deacon Mraz spoke about how the Creator uses what we consider as useless to connect us to one another and contribute to their common good. Lent is not so much about drudgery and misery. It is about bringing ourselves back to the basic reality, that we were all created out of God’s extravagant love and redeemed by a love no less than extravagant. We return to that place and remember that “thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” (Prayer of Humble Access, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 337).
When I read St. Benedict’s Chapter 7 On Humility in The Rule, there are three steps that really do shake me at the core of my false-sense of self. Step 4 says that we are to be obedient to our Superior even “difficult, unfavorable, and even unjust conditions” with a “quiet heart”. In Step 6, he says that the Monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment.” Benedict writes regarding Step 7 that I am to regard myself as “inferior” to all. My false-sense of self tells me that I am to be liked, preferred, approved of, to have everything I want and only then will I be truly happy. The false-sense of self is fueled if you will, by the many wounds within our souls. Benedict wrote about these steps so that we would know our place. We are neither completely above or below anyone.
When we accept our place as “ashes and dust” it dose not mean to loathe ourselves in low self-esteem. Such would further empower our false-sense of self. It means that when we are at our lowest; there is no limit to what God can do with us. When we open our hearts to God in contemplative prayer as “ashes and dust” the foot print made by others on us means that we have helped someone along their way. We have the opportunity to help God plant a new seed in someone’s journey of faith. The rain moistens us to prepare the way for new growth and hope for those in despair. We are not useless dust and ashes. We are in our Essence; in our true-selves seeking union with the Holy Essence of God.
What does God want to do in your life as you know yourself as ashes and dust?
Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5 NRSV).
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5 NRSV).
The First Sunday after Christmas repeats the use of John 1:1-18 that we heard on Christmas Day. This year, this Sunday and the commemoration of St. John the Evangelist occurs on the same day. Because it is a Sunday, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist is replaced by the First Sunday after Christmas. At the same time, I think that both occurring the same day and date are prophetic in their own right.
The two themes that repeat themselves in the Gospel of John and his first letter is the Word and the Light. Jesus who is the Incarnate Word is inseparable from the Light. We see through the darkness because of the Light. We hear God because of the Incarnate Word.
As St. Benedict wrote in The Prologue to The Rule, his very first word was listen. Rearrange those letters and we get the word silent. Benedict tells us to “incline the ears of our heart.” He begins with these words because to know God more deeply, is to listen deeply to God speaking through The Word. To see God is to look for the Light.
May all of us look for the Light of God in love and holiness in our many relationships. May we listen to the Incarnate Word so we may know God in our hearts. May we respond by what we hear in our hearts, so that others may see things from God’s point of view. It is a contemplative experience and quite mystical.
Jesus, new beginning, heavenly bread, living water, we hear the word of life, we see and grasp the truth; help us to proclaim it. Amen. (A New Zealand Prayer Book, p.694).
Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, n/OSB