Ash Wednesday: Reclaiming Our Souls

A homily by Rev. Dr. Leah Grundset Davis, 10:30am service at Ravensworth Baptist Church

“Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?”[1]

That’s the blessing one of my favorite writers, Jan Richardson offers for Ash Wednesday. Do we not know what the Holy One can do with dust? Always re-working, always re-claiming, always re-newing these dusty vessels in which we live and move and have our being.

“We are entering the season that begins with a smudge. That smudge is a testimony to what survives. It is a witness to what abides when everything seems lost. It is a sign that what we know and love may, for a time, be reduced to dust, but it does not disappear. We belong to the God who well knows what to do with dust, who sees the dust as a place to dream anew, who creates from it again and again.

Life will continually lay us bare, sometimes with astonishing severity. In the midst of this, the season of Lent invites us to see what is most elemental in us, what endures: the love that creates and animates, the love that cannot be destroyed, the love that is most basic to who we are. This season inspires us to ask where this love will lead us, what it will create in and through us, what God will do with it in both our brokenness and our joy.”[2]

More words from Jan Richardson that guide us to our Psalm for the day of Ash Wednesday. This psalm, Psalm 51 is always attributed to King David after his violent acts against Bathsheba and Uriah, shows him at his lowest point, in a place where his soul and his spirit are diminished, heavy and pain-filled.

In this pit of his despair, perhaps even grieving his humanity and the world in which he lived, David cried out:

1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

We are gathered here on Ash Wednesday as a redeemed community seeking the mercy of our great God. God meets us here, God forgives and God offers grace. Jesus lived life for us to see, drew lines in the dust of this world and came out of the dust of death to live a resurrected life. And Holy Spirit breathed life into those first disciples as the power and wind whipped around them and Holy Spirit breathes into us as we cry out for comfort.

Our world feels chaotic and stressful and we are inundated with breaking news alerts and can’t keep up with any of it. We’re tired, angry and uncertain. It’s time to reclaim our souls from the chaos of our world and let them rest in the grace of God. During this Lent let’s pay attention to the places tugging on our souls.

God might be speaking to us when we pick up a pen to write, or turn off notifications from CNN on our devices, or drink coffee in silence without the tv on, or check in with neighbors on evening walks or even in the chaos of a family dinner around the table.

Our souls are desperately in need of some attention. Our dustiness might be calling to us. Brush off that book. Clean up your prayer life. Sweep the dust outside to breathe fresh air, instead of dumping it into the trash.

Our prayer for this season might come from Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” I’d take some joy and sustenance these days to be reminded of the power of God at work in the world.

We are dust and to dust we shall return, but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

“Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”



[1] Jan Richardson, The Painted Prayerbook, Ash Wednesday: What God Can Do with Dust

[2] Richardson, ibid.

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