From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. (Gen 3:19)
With ashes on our foreheads, and these words of our mortality sounding in our hearts, we begin our Lenten journey. Left foot, right foot.
These words spoken to generations of pilgrims before us give us pause each time heard. From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. These words, though familiar, speak to the core of our mortality, our finiteness. With these words as our beginning place, we set out for forty days into the wilderness. What is it this year you are seeking?
And so hearing these words as a cross is traced across our foreheads we set out. Left foot, right foot.
These words of returning to dust, can certainly get our attention. These words of our mortality bring to the forefront that our time on this earth is limited. We were not created to live forever. Our bodies are precious and vulnerable vessels meant for a time, not all time. We are pilgrims traveling through. These words aren’t shared for us to be fearful of an ending, but to mindful of this present moment. We are here. Now. This is our time for choosing to participate - in this season, in this moment. Now.
This can be our season of turning and returning. It can be our time of reflection and intention. It can be our time of claiming and reclaiming our yearning for deep connection. It can be as simple and as difficult as paying attention to our life’s path. The differences between a path into a maze or onto a labyrinth are subtle, but by paying attention we can recognize the differences. By paying attention we can come to understand where we are and where we are going. At times our path can feel fearful, like walking into a maze’s entanglement, or other times like the peaceful, purposeful walking onto a labyrinth. These coming days can be our season of lighting a candle and stepping out - left foot, right foot.
Readings for this day come also from Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
With these words as well we set out on this time of pilgrimage. With these words we set out seeking something new, something right within us that is waiting. With these words we set out to follow our life path, strengthened by God’s steadfast love for us, each one. Not because we must, but because we may.
If you’ve ever walked a labyrinth you’ll know that these words (about labyrinth-walking and often about life) are true: What we think we know at the beginning of a journey, are often changed by what we discover along the way. Likewise, what we think we know at the beginning may turn out not be nearly as important as we originally believed. Labyrinth-walking continually shifts, unsettles and then re-settles our questions and quandaries. Time and time again, I have been gifted with grace.
Grace found me again as I was preparing for this year’s Lent.
The weight of the world companioned me on my recent journey into the labyrinth. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. There is something about the turns and returns of her path, that faithfully seemed to jostle my mind and my spirit. I felt a gentle presence of a new companion and along the way, this sense grew more sure and steady. And then I understood - I felt peace. When I stood in the center and looked to the sky, I felt relieved. Maybe it’s the steps, maybe it’s the continuing on when I really wasn’t sure how the next turn would get me where I intended to go, maybe it was God’s lovingkindness, but as I turned and began to make my way back I experienced a deep, reassuring peace. And when I turned to make my way back out, I understood the words for me for this Lenten season: "For you will go out in joy, and come back with peace,” from Isaiah 55.
There are times and practices for fasting and prayer, for alms giving in this Lenten season. Their purpose is to slow us down, to call us back, to return us to God. This journey promises to take us into and through the wilderness. It is my intention to step out on this journey with joy, with God’s promise that I will return back in peace. It is with a mortal and vulnerable heart that I begin this season carrying with me the hope of shalom, salam, paz, mir, pyeonghwa, vrede. Always with us is God’s lovingkindness for us. As we set out into this Lenten season, may we prayerfully seek what is to come.
This Lent it is my intention to provide something three days a week.
On Wednesdays it will be `Lenten words,' on Fridays poems,
and on Sundays reflections on the Psalms of the day.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan (now a freshman at Guilford College) and Sam at sophomore at DHS in Decatur, GA.