Ash Wednesday is her favorite point of the church calendar.
Why?—Because with the gentle smudge of dark ash on her forehead, through the murmured “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” she is reminded that she is but a creature.
Does this bring you comfort, friend? Do you find comfort in your creatureliness?
We try hard to hide from it, in a culture (and all too often a church) that shrinks from death and weakness. We prop ourselves up with the latest treatments, the latest offers of medicinal immortality. We resolve to try harder, to be better—or to at least conceal the blemishes of our broken hearts, flawed decisions, or mortal bodies. Without saying it outright, we flee from our creatureliness, wanting to look anywhere else than at our limitations, our failings, our inadequacies. Though we may not lay a claim to being God, we would at the very least like to forget that we are creatures—that we are but dust.
Weakness is a place few march into willingly, with fanfare announcing the arrival. No—I find myself at the door, carefully steal glances to one side and then the other, and while all heads are turned, slip in, gently closing the door behind me, hoping my entrance went unmarked. In my preoccupation, I fail to notice that so many others near me stand at doors of their own, furtively entering into this same arena of the human race, marked by weakness, pain, and questions.
Many would find this discussion depressing, an unnecessary meditation on what often seems a bleak reality of existence. They would hardly claim these thoughts a comfort. Others claim that we must claim victory and power, losing sight of the truth that we follow not only the Risen Christ, but the Crucified Christ as well.
When we try to hide from weakness, it often blindsides us, forcing us to face its hold. But we are invited by the Lord into something more glorious by the acknowledgment of it. This is the comfort of creatureliness. He bends down to us and says, “Yes, child, I know that you are but dust, for I am the one who formed your frame” (Psalm 103:14).
My whole body exhales in relief with these words. With them, I’m invited to sit in the quiet of what I’ve been trying so hard not to face—that I am weak, that I am needy, that I am human. With them, I can say, “Yes, this is my condition” and run wholeheartedly to grace as my only hope.
What blessed relief to know that we need not carry it all, that we need not keep striving, that we need not keep up the façade. What precious hope that we are gently held by a loving Creator who longs to be called Father. What loving care He offers us in our dependence—that we are called to lean in to him, not to get our act together; that we are promised His strength in our weakness, not charged to contrive our own. What comfort to declare that we are but creatures—exactly as He intended us to be.