Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.

March 3rd, 2019

How often do you pause to remember how short life is?

I’ve been taught that yoga practice prepares us for the moment of death. In some ways, I think all philosophical and religious traditions are trying to do this.

Because death is a difficult reality.

Taking a moment to remember our finitude helps us to stay connected with the reality that every moment we’re able to experience Being is utter gift.

In this morning’s sermon I wrote: “We were made of dust. And we’ll return to dust. But in between we’re alive!”

Taking a moment to remember that life is finite can remind us to pay attention to the reality that we are alive.

It can call us to wake up and notice our habit patterns—to notice how we’re actually living the life we’ve been given.

It can invite us to make decisions and take action with more intention.

A Ritual of Ash and Dust

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This might be an odd thing to say, but Lent is one of my favorite times of year. I view the 6 weeks of Lent as an opportunity for reflection and reset. In the Northern Hemisphere, the season of Lent comes as we’re preparing to say goodbye to winter. The days are getting longer and the bird song is becoming louder. We start to have faith that spring might just actually be on its way. And for me, this creates a deep, inner desire for renewal.

Lent always feels like an invitation to me. Because when we know that something specific needs to change in our lives it can feel scary or overwhelming or just hard, but the six weeks of Lent gives us a nicely packaged container in which to experiment with change. To try things out. To take a break from something. Or to make a commitment to something. Experimentation allows us to envision the possibility of change in a new way.

The 6 weeks of Lent begin with Ash Wednesday, a ritual that reminds us of our finitude. Ash is applied to the forehead as the words of Genesis 3.19 are read: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I’ve always loved this somber scripture because there’s something so fundamentally true about it. We will return to dust. Someday our bodies will be returned to the earth from which they came.

We were made of dust. And we’ll return to dust. But in between we’re alive! We’re able to experience the reality of being. The ritual of Ash Wednesday grabs us and tells us to pay attention! This ritual asks us to notice, to look, to investigate: what are we doing in this life? What direction are our actions taking us in? Through the practice of ritual these questions can’t stay theoretical because through the ritual we are physically marked. We are marked with ash—marked with the stuff that’s left after a fire. Ash is full of meaning and it’s nothing. It’s a dust that’l be blown away by the wind.

So what does it mean to remember that we’re dust and to be marked by ash? In her book “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons,” artist and minister Jan Richardson writes:

Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday

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.

This blessing accepts the reality of death and pain. It acknowledges the days that we feel like nothing—like we could simply blow away. But it doesn’t leave us there. This blessing cries out in hope. It asks us to remember what remains—what remains after we feel like we’ve been scorched. It reminds us that being made of dust is a deeply sacred reality. The dust in our bones is made of ancient ashes, of all in creation that came before us. The dust in our bones is made of stars and sacred earth.

Remembering that we are dust is not about belittling ourselves. It’s not about shame over the mistakes we make. It’s not about humiliation or false humility. It’s about understanding that we are one small part of the big, mysterious universe. It’s about remembering that our life can’t last forever. Remembering that we are dust and that we’ll return to dust is an opportunity and an invitation. It’s an opportunity to examine our life in frank starkness. It’s an invitation to make choices that lead us toward our highest potential.

So I invite you into this practice of Lent. You can find an Ash Wednesday service this week. Or you can create your own ritual. Spend time outside. Sit on the earth. Feel the dirt with your hands. Build a small fire and watch as it burns. Watch the transformation of wood becoming ash. Mark you body with some of the ash, remembering that your life is finite. Spend some time in honest self reflection and identify a change that needs to be made. Choose a small action—giving something up or adding something in—and make a commitment to experiment with this action over the next 6 weeks.

Let this ritual help you walk through the transition from winter to spring with intention. Let your experiments with change help build up a sense of hope and renewal deep within your spirit.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • If Lent is a tradition you participate in, have you articulated the practices you’d like to observe this year? Are you planning to attend an Ash Wednesday service this week?
  • If Christianity and/or Lent aren’t meaningful traditions for you, how would it feel to take 6-weeks (or some other amount of time) to intentionally experiment with making changes in your life? Can you see how giving yourself a container of time in which to experiment might help ease any fear or discomfort you have around making changes?
  • Ash Wednesday asks us to remember our finitude. How do you feel in your body when you hear the scripture: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return?”

LET’S TALK!

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?