“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

You’ve likely heard those words a few times in your life, and you’re likely to hear them at least once today.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

They’ve been a staple in my life, a yearly ritual reminding me from where I have come. It’s an intimate time–that moment when the lights are dim, music is playing lightly in the background, and someone you know and love rubs that gritty ash into your skin, reminding you that we have all come from the same dust. Or, downtown in the square, when a stranger offers that moment of vulnerability, of grace, of peace in the two strokes of their ash-covered finger.

Of course, I haven’t always received the ashes in this way.

As a queer person in The United Methodist Church, it’s easy to hear about “dust” and assume it is simply affirming what we are told many days of the year–that our mere existence is sinful or somehow less-than.

For years, I didn’t think Ash Wednesday told me anything new; it wasn’t a sacred time. It was just an opportunity for me to hear what I had heard so many times before: in the church, I and other queer people, were worth nothing more than dust. Why would I need that reminder? Why would any marginalized person in the church need that reminder?

But this year, I’m experiencing the Spirit in these words. I’m hearing them differently.

I wonder if Ash Wednesday is less a statement about who we are and more about who God is. Perhaps less about how “inadequate” we are and more about God’s overwhelming desire to be with us. Less about how we have failed and more about the blessedness of our being.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

Dust: we’re told it’s the essence of our being. Each and every one of us. Not because of what we’ve done or who we are; not in spite of what we’ve done or who we are. But simply by virtue of being human.

What’s more, we’re told that God wanted and wants to play in the dust. To create life from dust. To participate in our growing from dust into the people God has created us to be. To be in loving, familial relationship with each and every one of us.

Ash Wednesday is a reminder that God has sought us even before we were able to seek God. Even as we head into wilderness days, God is still seeking, still creating.

As queer people and allies in the church, this Ash Wednesday I beg of you: be gentle with yourselves. Shut out the murmurs of condemnation that so often reside within these Ash Wednesday words.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

Hear these words as a reminder that God has chosen you, that God seeks relationship with you, that God has met us even in our dust to form us beautifully diverse, that God calls us good. Welcome dust as the basis of our being, the matter God has chosen to reach into, the matter into which God breathes life, the matter–the people–that God has chosen to love.

Accept the ashes, let them sink into your skin, and remember that God has loved you, shaped you, given you life–and will do so from dust to dust. Let them be a reminder that any voice that says otherwise is not the voice of God.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Let these words give you life, peace, and remind you of God’s everlasting love. Refuse to let anyone’s words–this day or any day–take that away.

Brett Ray

Brett Ray is a transmasculine person, writer, poet, arm-chair theologian, and coffee enthusiast. You can find them pursuing the best cup of coffee in town, wooing their wife with sappy love songs, or watching Iowa State athletics.

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