Ash Wednesday Devotional
Today we bear a mark, the smudge of ashes, on our foreheads or hands.
Many of us grew up with an unappealing notion of “dirt.” Visible dirt smudged on our skin might be unfavorable. As a slang word for soil, dirt has a lot of negative connotations. Someone might be called “dirt” as a hurtful term about their essential worth. Being “dirty” means one must clean one’s self before being admitted into proper company. Or, alternatively, being “dirty” could be used to convey a spiritual or moral uncleanness. Dirt is associated with impropriety at best and shame at worst.
Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is related to having enacted a particular harmful behavior. Shame meanwhile is more about one’s essence, worth or deeper value. Being ashamed is different than being humble. Shame can impact one’s ability to keep and maintain relationships, work, and purpose. Shame can create great harm in a person’s life and in our world. Ashes should not be a mark of shame, but rather a mark of humility.
Humility is about knowing one’s right proportion in comparison to other things. Humility is not a rejection of self but a sense of the larger universe and of God’s presence. We are a part of something, even if only a small part. We are claiming we are earthy dirty, and connected to creation—which is actually a beautiful thing rather than a terrible thing.
In Revelation we look to a new heaven and a new earth, but not because we are shameful dirt that needs redemption. We look to a new heaven and new earth because being part of creation, we affirm that this world isn’t yet what God desires it to be. With humility, we mark ourselves with ash and commit ourselves to humble action. And even if we are unable to receive the imposition of ashes this year because of the continuing pandemic, we can always mark our hearts in its place. No matter how we choose to mark ourselves this year, by doing so we draw closer to the creation and to our Creator.
Creator, this Lenten season, open our eyes to the injustices around us. May we begin to build the foundation for a world that is honoring and pleasing to you.—one that removes fear and values everyone. Amen.
Rev. Rebecca Barnes is the Coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program.