"You are dust and to dust you shall return"

Posted by Christine Nusse on Feb 19, 2007 | Categories: Seasons of the Spirit

Ash Wednesday.
I never liked Ash Wednesday! “Remember that you are dust and will return to dust”. I have a better idea of myself and like much better to hear that I am made in God’s image. And one might wonder, which one is it, dust or God?

Lent is a long period of penance, forty days during which we are supposed to ask God forgiveness for our sins.
But what is sin? In this age of psychotherapy there is really no sin left to be responsible for, is there? I can trace all my faults and shortcomings to my upbringing, my genes, a need for my ego to survive no matter what, you name it. And if by chance I feel too guilty about my actions, therapy is suggested so I can feel good about myself again.

Before the 10th century, people who had been excommunicated, meaning they really committed a ‘big’ sin and were seeking to come back to the Christian community, would put on a burlap-like garment and cover themselves with ashes. They would do penance for 40 days, and at Easter be forgiven and welcomed back in the community. After the 10th century this process of conversion, marked by receiving the ashes and followed by forty days of penance, was extended to all.

Is it still today an act of penance, like Yom Kippur or Ramadan? By the way, Jews need only one day, Muslims thirty and we Christian forty days. What does it say about us Christians?

What is sin? It seems that the Church is putting so much emphasis on the sins of the flesh and on sexual morality that it has no time for other sins anymore.
Obviously, I am not going to do penance for being a lesbian, “disordered” and all! So what is (are) my sin(s)? What does it mean to do penance?

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