Today is Ash Wednesday on the calendar of many Christians; perhaps a wise day to put aside the slings, arrows and even entertainments of mundane existence, at least for a moment. And I think certainly part of the value of making the observance is that it’s darned near impossible to be distracted by petty things during the moment that the minister or priest makes the sign of the cross in ashes on one’s forehead, and says the words that brook no debate: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
In my own little church in the wildwood, congregants were encouraged to read Psalm 90 to themselves in their pews while waiting for the line of ash-recipients to dwindle. (It’s a notable fact that quite a few people come to receive ashes who are not otherwise regular attendees at the church. I guess whenever you’re giving away something free …)
That prayer of Moses rewards reflection. A few verses (from Psalm 90, ESV):
You return man to dust
and say “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.