On Wednesday I’ll walk home from my second trauma counseling appointment via my church where I’ll join with others in having a cross of ash painted on my forehead. A version of God’s words from Gen 2 will be spoken over each of us as the ashes are applied: Remember that you are dust. . .
She asked me at my first appointment, “What is your biggest fear about counselling?” I struggled to answer. There are many – some more rational than others. That it will put me back in a posture of striving to “fix” myself rather than letting my focus be on coming to Jesus broken and opening to his love. That she won’t know what to do with my mess. That I won’t know what to do with it. And this one: That at the end of the day it will turn out that my struggle to deal with the things I experienced will be less about the strength of those experiences than about my own weakness and vulnerability. Somehow that feels shameful. Even though I know better, somewhere deep down I still think I should be impermeable, or nearly so.
Ash Wednesday reminds me otherwise. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:19) Though the words close God’s declaration of judgment on the serpent, the land, the woman and the the man, they are not a statement of judgment but a statement of fact. As Walter Brueggemann points out, the Genesis 3 words echo the declaration at the start of chapter two that God “formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”
“Human vulnerability is not late, not chosen, not punishment, not an aberration, not related to sin. It belongs to the healthy, original characterization of human personhood in relation to God. This is what it means to be human. This rather elemental and straightforward physiology marks the human person as a creature who lives by the daily, moment by moment generosity of God.” (Brueggemann, “Remember, You Are Dust”)
In fact, as he points out,
“The narrative of Gen. 2-3 concerns the risk of trying to escape or transcend the modest status of creatureliness, the dangerous venture of ‘being like God’ (3:4).”
Limitations are not sin; our sin is our attempt to escape them.
We often think of Lent (if we think of it at all) as a time of mourning and fasting and repentance, of becoming more aware of our sin and maybe even wallowing in the awareness of our sinfulness. But at its heart, Lent is about love. It’s about noticing and turning away from whatever keeps us from opening to God’s love, and it’s about turning back toward that love with our whole selves.
What if one of the barriers to receiving God’s love was the dualism that resents our bodies as weak distractions that need to be overcome to live well the life of the soul?
What if God was calling us to come as whole persons, soul, spirit, and body, to love and be loved?
Over these next six weeks of Lent I’ll be exploring aspects of this invitation. How does God see my creatureliness—body included? What might it look like to live fully alive to God with my body as well as my soul? What are some resources and practices that can help me begin to travel along this path? It’s a lifetime journey, this learning to be wholly God’s—heart, soul, mind, and strength—but I’m lacing up my runners and taking the next few steps. Care to join me?