More Ashes Please

More Ashes Please


A reflection by the Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton.

Scripture: Genesis 3:19 (NRSV)

By the sweat of your face
   you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
   for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
   and to dust you shall return.’


Two weeks ago, I burned last year's dried out palms with members of our youth group (on the bricks outside our church building!). Today, I will impose the ashes they made: Neat, quarter-sized crosses of ash mixed with oil rubbed on each forehead, once in the morning, and again with the youth in the evening. By Thursday morning, everyone will have moved on; they'll be making plans for the first Sunday of Lent, or for St. Patrick's Day. But me: I'll still be carrying around my leftover cinders. Because somehow that small smudge on my forehead – the one I can't even see – never feels like enough.
Maybe I should smudge my cheeks, too, and my nose, or let it dry out the spit in my mouth. Maybe I should rub my hands in the stuff – up to my elbows, so that everything I touch gets a little ashy. Maybe that would feel closer to expressing what Ash Wednesday is supposed to be about: the messiness of life, the way that grief or fear, failure or struggle, inertia or narcissism cling, get all over us, even after we think we've brushed them away and moved on.
The ashes on my forehead may be gone by midday on Wednesday; the vestiges will be washed away in tomorrow morning's shower. But my wilderness walk, my seeking after God, my embracing my own mortality: it's only begun. I'm thinking I'd like to keep the ashes with me, pull them out once in a while and rub them between finger and thumb, to remember: I am dust. And that's ok. God can work with dust…


Dear God: Meet me in the messiness this season. Amen.
The Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton is the senior pastor of Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport.

Alison J. Buttrick Patton

pastor of Saugatuck Congregational Church, UCC in Westport

March 01, 2017
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