You may’ve noticed something yesterday.
That is, if you weren’t too busy to notice.
If you weren’t too busy cocooning yourself off from the rest of the world
by texting while you were driving,
or walking along the sidewalks looking down at a little screen on your phone.
Or if you weren’t so overly cloistered among an obscenely small clique of
like-minded, like bodied, hyper-allergenic, hyper-feng-shuied chums.
What you may’ve noticed
More specifically, ashes.
You may’ve noticed some peculiar people around town who had ashes on their foreheads.
The first one you came to,
if you were as mindful and as observant as you think you are,
may’ve been someone who smiled at you.
And if you were feeling a bit “engaged” or “compassionate,” you might’ve awkwardly pointed toward her face and said, “Um.. Say… You’ve got a little something on your skin, up there above your glasses.”
And if you had a tissue, you might’ve offered it to them.
They may’ve smiled and nodded a knowing nod and politely refused your little gift.
But then, as the day went on, you saw more of them.
Dark and dirty little “plus signs” just smeared on people’s faces.
They couldn’t’ve all forgotten to look in the mirror this morning.
Something weird was going on.
Something strange and peculiar.
What in the heck would cause otherwise normal looking people, who are living their lives, carrying on about their business, at Starbucks, at the laundry, at the bank, at the grocery store, at the gym and in Congress… to want to look so ridiculous?
To be so unclean?
To look like crap?
Did they drink someone’s Kool-Aid?
Was it some new meme, like planking, that’s going around?
Did they lose a bet?
Or perhaps, just maybe,
they know something.
Perhaps they know that they’re going to die and they’re sick and tired of denying it and pretending it’s never going to happen.
Perhaps they know that it is from ashes that they have come and it is from ashes they shall return.
Perhaps they know that constantly keeping every surface of your home clutter free and banishing all of the dust bunnies ….. is dysfunctional, and a futile, death-denying illusion.
Perhaps the namaste that they say is only lip-service and deluded, wishful thinking unless it’s the namaste of authentic divinity which creates life out of the dust, that breathes life into mudpeople, and was born in a barn.
Perhaps they know that through the hecticness and waywardness of their lives, they’ve begun to not look like their pictures… the pictures of who they really are… in the eyes of God.
Perhaps they know that the only way to regain their true image is to humble themselves
to allow the Etch-A-Sketch of their lives to be shaken….
Perhaps that ash on their skin is a way of owning that they are mortal, that they aren’t perfect, that they aren’t all that, that they’ve still got a long way to go…
Perhaps it’s a way for them to begin forty days in the wilderness, fasting and going without.
In an effort to be less focused on the shiny, buddha-head as a bauble, cross as a trinket, spending way too much for hipster bikes that only have one gear and for yoga-clothes-that-you’re-only-going-to-sweat-in-and-who-cares-what-you-look-like-while-you-do-it, tabloid pap and crap flavas of the month.
And to be more focused instead on what really matters,
recognizing their dependence on God and their ability to give a damn about others.
Those of us have eyes to see. See.
See the dust… and embrace it.
Written on Feb. 23, the day after Ash Wednesday, 2012.
Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor. He is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity. He blogs for Patheos, Huffington Post, and Elephant Journal and is an active member of The Christian Left Facebook page.
This post originally appeared at Elephant Journal and is reprinted with permission from the author.