As I impose ashes on Ash Wednesday I say the words, “Remember that you are of dust, and to the dust you shall return,” But in my mind I say, “Remember that you are of the earth, and to the earth you shall return”. For me, Lent is the season to return to the elementary foundations of our life. The word translated here is humus, from which the word humility is derived. We are called back to the simple ways of God; the ways of love, of kindness and generosity. Being from the earth, we, like all creation, rely upon the primal elements of light, and water, nourishment from the land around us. For me, Ash Wednesday is a day calling us back to the origins of the goodness, and divine relationship by which this whole spiritual journey is about.
The whole season of Lent is about returning to the humus, to the place of our belonging – that place of receiving rain from the heavens, food from the seed, meat from livestock, love from God. The story we read and see and hear throughout the sacred scriptures, written upon the page and in our lives, is the story about returning to the place of gracious belonging – a relationship from which we receive in faith, and we give back in faith.
Our modern culture with its mass production techniques has realized the destruction caused by taking from the land without giving back. Farming techniques that exploit the natural resources and replace them with chemicals have created a crisis in both the land and in our diet. This is not the natural or the divine way to live. From the beginning, the children of God are instructed, “when you have come into the land of your inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord, your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and bring it to the priest…” The passage in Deuteronomy instructs the descendants of Abraham to remember from where they have come and to remember all the ways by which the land which God gave to them, has given them a home and provided blessing and sustenance.
The ritual of giving back in faith at the altar of your God is the beginning of the eternal balance; from the creator of all we have received, and from what we have received we return in thanksgiving upon the altar of faith. Jesus said it in simpler terms; freely you have received; now freely give. It is the most basic and simplest way to prevent your life from only receiving; from only taking. The act of bringing your offering to the altar of your God, is an act of faith, of gratitude, and of humility – a conscious declaration that all things come from Thee, O God, and from thine own we give.”
Lent calls us back to the earth, sharing with all of creation this relationship of dwelling in the shelter of the most high. As Jesus taught, the sparrow is fed, the lily is adorned, and we are given all and more than we need. Where does it all come from? How did our lives become so full? Who do we have to be thankful? Is it so hard or foolish to give back, in a similar spirit and generosity in which we have received?
Early in our life together, Annie was explaining to a family member our practice of giving back a portion of our income as a faith and thank offering to God. He thought the whole idea was a little kooky and risky. I remember thinking, what is so kooky about giving back from all that we have received? And the idea of it being risky? Well, I suppose a synonym for faith and trust, is taking a risk. But this simple act of bringing to God an offering of faith is the opening statement of a whole life narrative of living under the shadow of God’s nurturing and loving wing. It is for me, the ground of faith. Giving back in kind and substance, an offering of love and gratitude and sacrifice, for all that has been so generously been provided to me and my family.