Last night was Ash Wednesday, and during our service and into the evening, I was thinking how oddly beautiful and poignant it was, as a minister, to impose ashes on your own children—to kneel before them, to look into their sweet, beloved faces, to press that dusty cross onto their foreheads, saying, “My love, from dust you were created, and to dust you will return”—and to hold in mind not just the wonder of their creation and the truth of their mortality, but also to consider that small stretch of forever from the miracle you were a part of … to the grief you hope to never know—from God’s breath into … to the last breath out of …. It’s an overwhelming gratitude in the very face of risk and loss.
This morning, I received word of a friend, a minister in Nashville, whose eight-year-old daughter, Emmie, was killed in a car accident on the way home from their Ash Wednesday service. So now, in light of my nightmare made real in someone else’s tragedy, I rethink my thoughts and words. Are they still appropriate? What if my friend were to read this entry?
Thing is, they’re not just words of truth about the sometimes terrible fragility of life, and they’re more than affirmation about the wondrous gift it is—more even than assurance about the God whose love meets us precisely not just within the specifics of living but also when the specifics of living grind our faces into the dust. This is our faith claim: that even as God is a part of our creation and part of our living, the truth of us embraced in the truth of God continues forevermore. Faith claims don’t take away grief and pain and anger and questions. They can provide a larger context … a larger context of love … in which the anger rages and the pain weeps … and is shared.
Last night, God’s word, “Remember mortal, from dust you came, and to dust you shall return. Today, God’s word, “Never forget, mortal, what I do with dust.” Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but Emmie, Emmie to God.