Mary Elizabeth Hanchey: From dust you have come, and to dust you will return

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

This proclamation names our mortality. But the rhythmic painting of ashes that it accompanies – down and then across, down and then across, down and then across – marks us with the sign of our risen Lord. We are at once named death and life. Marked with an ashen cross we enter the wilderness with Jesus and begin plodding along towards Holy Week. We face death and darkness and our own brokenness as a people who also know that Easter will burst forth.

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From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Willingly stepping into the wilderness – on purpose – as a part of spiritual practice – could seem counter-intuitive. Those who know the language of Godly Play have heard that no one goes into the wilderness unless she has to. But going into the wilderness, and then living into Easter, is rhythm that is important to practice.

As mothers, and as ministers, and as mothers who minister, we find ourselves in the wilderness more often than we would like. And more often than not we arrive suddenly. We don’t feel led there by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was. We feel abandoned.

We start our day planning for a bit of mothering and a bit of ministering. Mothering and ministering both require tending to administrivia as well as to profound relationship building and we lay groundwork and balance and stretch and listen and perceive and take action so that we can do all of this tending effectively. And then someone who is angry or afraid or insecure or simply misinformed dumps her mess on our heads and we find ourselves standing in the wilderness soaked and sticky and outraged and alone.

And we are tempted. We are tempted by all sorts of responses that tease at gratification.

Jesus has shown us what to do about temptation in the wilderness. In Luke’s telling, Satan tempts Jesus with three tantalizing suggestions: fill yourself up with your own works; claim authority that is absolute, though Godless; and behave cavalierly. Jesus declines.

In the wilderness, empty and lonely and exhausted, Jesus remains focused on what he knows to be true about God. And he is strengthened for the ministry he is about to undertake.

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Having been named both life and death we step into the wilderness of Lent and practice surviving until Easter. We practice declining the seemingly gratifying temptations we face there. We practice so that when we find ourselves suddenly abandoned in the wilderness on a day that we thought mothering and ministering would be life-giving, we will remember that Jesus is there with us. We practice so that we will remember that we are an Easter people who will not let wilderness overtake us.

We practice so that we can accompany others in the wilderness. Who do you know that is in wilderness? As you lift your eyes to gaze upon the others who are plodding in wilderness, speak to them with a breath tinged with Easter. Tell them what they need to remember in order to survive the fear and loneliness. Make a Lenten practice of naming the spiritual gifts of those who walk beside you. Remind the bearers of burdened hearts and heavy shoulders that they are God’s own.

This week as we step into Lent marked by ashen crosses, let this prayer guide our plodding:

God of the wilderness, fill me with your Spirit. Show me Jesus in this place. Help me to focus on what I know to be true about you. Protect me from despair. Protect my children from my temptations. Strengthen me for the ministry that lies ahead. Put words of encouragement on my tongue. Amen.

 

 

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Mary Elizabeth Hanchey is a Coordinator for Project Pomegranate, which provides spiritual resources for those impacted by fertility grief. A member at Watts Street Baptist Church, she lives in Durham, NC with her husband and three children. She is a student at Duke Divinity School where she is pursuing an MDiv as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Scholar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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