15 Feb

  Text and image by Rick McVicar 

     Is Ash Wednesday a pagan holiday? 

     A revelation came to me when a minister placed ashes upon my head during an Ash Wednesday service. The event is an annual observance in the Christian tradition to begin a period of preparation for Holy Week, which ends in the death and resurrection of Jesus.   

     “You’ve come from dust and to dust you will go,” the minister told me as he ritualistically dusted my forehead with ashes.             

     In that moment, it occurred to me that the minister was not reminding me of my sinful nature. No, the minister was saying that I am very much a part of earth.              

     Ashes on my forehead show that I represent earth.  

     My beginning, my continuation and my ending are all wound up with good old dust from planet earth. 

     During the service, the minister read the entirety of Psalm 22, which includes a line that was quoted by Jesus on the cross, according to Mark 15:34, NRSV.  

     “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1)? The Psalmist goes on to write, “But I am a worm, not human” (v. 6). 

     Reading the Psalm over when I got home, I began to wonder if this Psalm has been misunderstood, maybe even by Jesus himself.  What if the Psalmist intended to write from the perspective of an earthworm? What if this Psalm is really about the glorious work that an earthworm does to take care of us, even as humans and other animals dish up scorn against worms? 

     After all, towards the end of the poem the Psalmist writes, “To him (the Lord), indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down” (v. 29). Who sleeps in the earth and bows down? The dead? No, they cannot bow down. The ones who sleep, bow and rise in the earth are the earthworms, the nightcrawlers, the wonderful creatures who help plants grow and nourish in the soil so we can be fed. Earthworms that provide food for birds and bait for fish. 

     So this Ash Wednesday, I am celebrating that I am dust and worm, because soil and earthworms do such wonderful things for all of us.      

     I hope you will have artful health as you observe this Lenten season.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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