Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lent: Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. In this season, we remember that we are dusty and repent because we are dirty. Kyle has a good introduction to Ash Wednesday for those unfamiliar with the tradition.

There are all kinds of ways of observing Lent. For instance, TEAR Australia are suggesting that Christians consider undertaking a forty day carbon fast. Lent is easily misunderstood and frequently abused. The best Lenten disciplines serve to sharpen our hearing of the gospel, preparing our hearts for the great feast of Easter.

During this season, and in the liturgy of today's service, we are exhorted to "Remember, o mortal, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the good news." Last year I offered some reflections upon this text, noting not only that we all return to dust (are mortal) and need to repent of our sin (which is distinct though related to the fact that we shall die), but that we are dust. Dust is our origin, our essence.

I thought I'd re-post a small part of the discussion that came out of that post.


So what might it mean to remember that we are dust? Well, at a minimum, I suspect it means that we cannot simply assume "the environment" is something "out there", an appendix to our existence that can be treated purely instrumentally as a source of "resources". Instead, we recognise that we belong here, that we share a common origin and destiny with other created things. And we share a common task as well: the praise of the creator. So we are reliant upon the non-human in order to truly be human, since we are created to join our voices with creation's praise (in what might be called doxological interdependence). Note that this also means (contra some forms of deep green thought) that the rest of creation needs us to truly be itself too. This puts the lie to the idea that we ultimately face a choice between caring for humans and caring for "the environment".