By Garrett Vickrey
One night while I was a student at Baylor University I stepped into a Catfish King in Waco, TX to grab a bite to eat. The place was packed. A friend and I took the last available table. Who knew so many people went out for catfish on Wednesday nights? But, there was something else that connected all these people besides a hunger for fish that night. Ashes.
A prepubescent kid darted by my shoulder on his way to refill his cup at the drink machine; an ash cross was on his forehead. His father yelled at him to slow down. His wrinkled brow revealed ashes on his forehead too. As my friend and I looked around the restaurant we noticed we were the only people there without an ash cross on our forehead. It was Ash Wednesday at Catfish King. If you were Catholic AND following the tradition to fast from eating meat during Lent AND you don’t consider catfish meat AND you live in Waco, THEN the Catfish King was the place to be. So why not enjoy some golden fried catfish and hush puppies before we all return to dust?
The ash cross marked on the forehead was familiar to me. I grew up in a rare baptist church that observed Ash Wednesday. What struck me was the fact that I had gone through that day like any other forgetting that hallowed day with its simple message— We are dust and to dust we shall return.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of the hunger we all share for something more. At our core we all know our dependence though we rarely acknowledge it. We all know our mortality though we ignore it.
Ash Wednesday is about remembering that life is more than what we feel, what we can reason, what we can see. We are more than the dust from which we were made and the ash to which we will return. We are God’s dust.
We love to avoid thinking about our dependence… we love to avoid thinking about vulnerability much less mortality. We’ve got photoshop to cover up our flaws, and cemeteries on the edge of town to keep some distance between us and our thoughts of mortality. That’s why we need a day like this to remind us what we’re made of. Dust and matter. Atoms, neurons. Energy and data.
More than this, we are God’s dusty artwork crafted in carbon. We were once cradled by holy hands who breathed life into our flimsy lungs. We need at least one day to remember all this. In fact, go ahead and take 40 days. We can think about other things when we get to the empty tomb.