If you know anything about Ash Wednesday, you probably know that it involves having ashes smeared onto your forehead. It's supposed to remind us that we are mortal creatures.
It goes like this: the priest (these days, that's me!) dips her thumb in some ashes, and traces a sign of the cross, in ashes, onto your forehead, saying, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Ash Wednesday is one of those churchy traditions I pretty much took for granted. It's one of the things I've always done. The first time I truly thought about what we were saying was the Ash Wednesday in seminary after my friend Lucia was diagnosed with breast cancer. There's nothing like the possibility of death to bring those words into sharper focus.
They came into sharper focus again this year, at several different moments. Yesterday, I reminded someone who might be dying that she was dust. And a girl of 11. And a baby of about eighteen months (or perhaps, really, his grandmother). It's very different to be on the reminding end than it is to be on the receiving end.
I've presided at Ash Wednesday services before, but I was particularly struck by the seriousness of the role yesterday.