Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day this year, and what better way to “ground” Lent than with a holiday reminding us of the importance of love, family, community. The official liturgical readings and Valentine’s Day cards focus on the human family; this would be a great year to expand our inclusion of all people to the rest of creation.
“Brothers and sisters,” the 2nd liturgical reading begins, and we usually think of human ones. Let’s stretch it to include thoughts from Pope Francis, who begins Laudato Si’ by quoting St. Francis: “Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (par. 1) Pope Francis adds in the next paragraph: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf Gn 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” Those who receive ashes on their foreheads on Feb. 14 profess their belief that we are, indeed, dust, made from earth.
But that dust, too, had a beginning. If Earth is our Mother, generations of exploding stars are our ancestors. Everything has come from elements resulting from their death and new life. Our Solar System and everything in it developed from a shimmering cloud of stardust elements like calcium, carbon, and hydrogen resulting from a supernova explosion. Thus everything on Earth is made of stardust elements.
On Ash Wednesday, Christians traditionally receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads to remind them that they are dust. The following ritual is meant to enrich this realization by reminding us that we are dust only because we are stardust! (For a two-sided pdf copy of the following ritual, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Needed: one candle and a dish of dirt (or glitter, representing stardust). Decide who will read what.
Leader: To begin, let us pause to recall past times when we have received ashes on our foreheads and heard words like these: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Remember how that influenced your practices during Lent.
Pause to Reflect.
Carry those thoughts and graces with you now, but place them in a larger context: the context of the entire universe and its amazing 13.8 billion-year history. After billions of years, thanks to the divine Mystery living and acting in our world and in us, stars formed and died in the process of bringing Earth to existence. We became part of this blessed creation. We are connected to all life; all life is interconnected and interdependent; we have a role in this sacred story!
Reader One: The massive star that was mother to our Sun met with fiery death, her form completely annihilated by the explosive force of the blast. And yet she exists in each of us, in the cells of our bodies that are composed of her dust. Consciously or not, we carry her within us as surely as we carry the DNA of our biological parents. (Radical Amazement, Judy Cannato)
Reader Two: Our planet Earth was once a dancing star, evolving over four and a half billion years ago from the many elements of [an exploding] supernova. I have loved knowing that we are “made of stardust” . . . I like knowing that the composition of my body has the elements of a star that was once brilliantly aglow in the universe and is now dancing in me. There’s a magical sense of connection that comes from this knowledge . . . . (The Cosmic Dance, Joyce Rupp)
Reader Three: Dust particles are suspended in the air at all times, unnoticed until sunlight bathes them in radiant streaming light. In this warmth, the specs sparkle. No one who cares about shiny furniture is unaware of what dust can accomplish, just by being. Nothing is insignificant in our universe!
Litany of gratitude:
• for the Spirit present within the creative process of creation and within each of us, We are grateful.
• for the generations of supernovas that exploded, resulting in stars with increasingly more of the heavy elements, eventually leading to the supernova that resulted in our solar system and galaxy, We are grateful.
• for Sister Dirt, because of whom we can enjoy food, flowers, plants, clean air, shade, and revelations of the divine, We are grateful.
• for farmers who till the soil, especially our local farmers who do it organically using fair trade practices, We are grateful.
• for those who lobby to prevent mono-cropping, toxic fertilizers, and the use of GMO’s that endanger the earth, We are grateful.
• for the scientists, theologians, thinkers, writers, speakers and artists who have helped us realize our place in creation — [Pause to quietly remember one or two who have helped you. Name them if you wish], We are grateful.
• for those present and throughout the world committed to creating a flourishing Earth, including Pope Francis, and for his encyclical Laudato Si’, We are grateful.
• Add as you wish.
Jesus, too, was stardust! Jesus, too, died to give new life, as each seed must do, as we will each do. How might we connect the creation story with our Lent experiences this year? How might our Lent resolutions reflect our call to care for E/earth?
Pause to reflect, and then share.
Blessing of soil (or glitter):
May this soil (or glitter), which dates back billions of years and which took over 4 billion years to form on Earth, keep us humble — humus is the Latin for soil. May it remind us of who we are and how vitally we interconnect with the rest of creation. May we deepen our awareness of our bonds with all creation. Amen.
Individual blessings, using soil (or glitter):
Depending on the number of participants, either divide into pairs, each member blessing the other with soil from the center bowl, or form a circle and pass the bowl of soil, each blessing the person on his or her right.
Thank you, (name), for bringing your starlight into my life. I bless you and the star-stuff you invest in caring for all of creation. (Add anything you may wish to say at the beginning of our Lenten Journey.)