“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the words that begin the Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday when the mark of ashes on our foreheads adds to the burden of the words. If this beginning is where we depart, Lent would be endlessly depressingly, a burdensome journey of guilt that leaves us with a sense of hopelessness.

It’s true that the liturgy calls us to a season of self-examination, repentance, acknowledgement that we are, as Isaiah laments, “sinful and we live among sinful people.” If we’re honest, Lent forces us to confront the reality of the ways in which we separate ourselves from God and from one another, the ways we screw up, the mistakes we make, our selfish and self-centered ways, the ways in which sin undermines life.

Lent calls us to pay attention to the realities of sin in ourselves and in the world around us. It does not demand that we keep our eyes downcast, weighed down by our unworthiness. There is a life-giving aspect to attending to what is wrong within and around us. There is hope.

I was made keenly aware of this several weeks ago when I wound up in the hospital with a potentially life-threatening condition. For some time I had felt “not quite right” but I was busy, had a lot to do, obligations to meet, people depending upon me. I did not have the time to slow down, to pay attention to the signals my body was broadcasting – that I was not well. Until the pain would not be ignored. When I went to the emergency room they immediately sent me to the hospital due to micro perforations in my colon. The doctor was blunt: “This condition will kill you if you don’t pay attention and seek the help that is available to you.”

Lent calls us to remember the deadly condition of sin, but points us in the direction of the help that is offered to us in Jesus. Jesus comes to us in the darkness of Lent and bids us to follow him. When we can bear to raise our eyes and follow Jesus, we find ourselves being led into the light.

Author and artist Jan Richardson urges us for Lent:

“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…”

We are so much more than dust!

The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.

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