Lent, the "Spring" of the Church year, begins today. Here and in many other churches, a priest traced a sign of the cross on their head and told them, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." It is a graphic reminder of mortality. It is also a summary of the ingredients in human beings.
Genesis 2 describes creation from below. God, the potter, builds the human from dust. The clever puns (adam and adamah; human and dust) make the Hebrew story more delightful. To be dust and to return dust is not a tragedy. To remain lifeless dust, however, would be. God breathes His spirit/breath into the dust form and it becomes a living soul/mind (nefesh). One meaning of nefesh is hunger or appetite. From the beginning, the dust man is, among other things, empty and in search. The list is long: companionship, worthwhile work, meaning in life are at the top, while more basic hungers like food, drink, sleep are never ending. A back scratch or funny joke might be included, at least for some.
It is the Spirit of God that makes us a "Living Soul." Lent, the reminder that without God's breath we disintegrate into dust again, is a time period to immerse ourselves in an awareness of our true nature. I am and always have been and always will be dust. My fate is to return to that state. I am not self-generated. I am dependent, derived and distracted by the present. I forget the temporary nature of my life as I am busy with many things. Ash Wednesday calls us to pause and think. I am dependent. I am derived. I am the work of another. I have been created.
To be created is to be in a relationship. Lent calls us to look to the Creator; to rid ourselves of some of the distractions and hone in more energetically on Him. So what to do? In any situation I have found the improvement paradigm is the same.
1. figure out where you want to be
2. assess 'where' you are
3. the gap is what needs to be addressed
4. what do you need to stop? what do you need to start? What do you need more or less of?
Lent is a time to stop (fasting) and start (disciplines). It is a time for improving what we are doing and being. Giving up sweets is good for lots of reasons. Giving up sweets and adding prayer time with the Word is better for lots of reasons. Giving up sweets, praying with the Word, and opening your heart to God in praise and thanks, love and trust is best. This is the purpose of life, to commune with God in loving worship and trusting obedience. So in Lent, we need to do that more and more. Forty days to a new way of life is possible.
Remember what you are (dust) and what you will be (dust) and what keeps you a Living Soul in the mean time (God's Spirit). Focus on getting closer to the Father rather than just a check list of behaviors and disciplines. Get with other people who want to be deeper with the Lord God. Trust Him more and more and spend time sitting with Him and loving. Cut out some things and empty yourself, "make room for your Father." Clear your schedule and make time for the relationship with Jesus. Slow down, quiet down and sit still with the Holy Spirit. Lent is a great season of purification and renewal. Don't waste it.