Darrel and Gail Voth

Directors of Mobilization, Beautiful Feet Missionary Training and Sending, Choctaw, Oklahoma

Ashes to ashes stardust to stardust…

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The Lenten season isn’t something I was taught about and consequently, I’ve always looked on from the outside. I would see people giving up something they really enjoy for 40 days, then fail or cheat and explain it away. I heard about repentance and the bankrupt human condition. I heard sorrow, tears, anguish, defeat, shame. You can see how my viewpoint never really encouraged me into the practice!

Last year, during this time, I was going through The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and was encouraged to go through the season, with special focus on Holy Week, and to just be with Christ in his journey.

That focal shift was the key. Get my eyes off me and onto Christ. Christ’s lenten journey is full of love. Are there tears, disappointment, agony? Yes to all, but even so, it’s not about defeat and shame—love shines through it all.

So this year, I was really feeling drawn into the season in a fresh way and I began looking for an Ash Wednesday service to attend. I’ve received the ashes before, so when I approached this time, I was surprised by the words, “Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust, you belong to God.”

Seemed weird, a bit hokey and I didn’t know what it meant… but it was all part of a bigger communication from God for me that day. The following poem by Jan Richardson called, “Blessing the Dust” was in the program that night:

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Did you see this part? “This is the hour we are marked by what has made it through the burning.” That’s what God pointed out to me. The process of burning is harsh but purifying. Again, my focus had been off. The process is for good. The result is not in the ashes but in what’s made it through the burning. I found myself embracing the burning, asking for more, yearning for the junk to be burned away and the treasure to be revealed. I went to bed that night with those thoughts in my heart and the ashes still on my forehead.

When I got up in the morning and faced the bathroom mirror, I was again surprised. There it was, there in the ashes, a tiny but brilliant blue shimmer… they’d mixed a shimmer compound in with the ashes. I felt loved, special and valued by my Creator. This is Lent: amidst the pain and all the ups and downs, we have Love. Promise. Presence.

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Author: darrelvoth

Just a boy with some bread and a few fish waiting to see what Jesus is going to do next.

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