First Place winner in essay category Reply

Ash Wednesday writing contest

Enough of Dust and Ashes

By Keith Dean Myers

Judge’s comments:

“I very much appreciated all six essays: each was thoughtful, creative, heart-felt and eloquent. I chose Keith Dean Myers’ “Enough of Dust and Ashes” for the way he voices for all of us what we are feeling in the unprecedented experience of pandemic. In place of the traditional Ash Wednesday worship service his church sent him a baggie of ashes to use at home. Remembering the liturgical words that accompany the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday Myers asks, ‘How could I not remember that I am dust in this, our long season of pandemic?’ With an edge of irritation he exclaims, ‘I’ve had enough of…..’ and lists our daily catalog of stress and fear…..death, hospitalizations, climbing positivity rates, economic crisis, schools struggling’ and more. And in one eloquent sentence, I thought Myers captures the essence of it: ‘I have had more than enough of dust and ashes stirred up by a virus that clings, sin-like, so close as to take our breath away, forever.’ ”

“Nevertheless, the imposed cross of ashes on his forehead will bear witness, for Myers and for all of us, that ‘the cross triumphs over dust and ashes, including mine.’ ”

John M. Buchanan 

ENOUGH OF DUST AND ASHES

By Keith Dean Myers

On Ash Wednesday 2020, I knelt before a priest as his thumb inscribed a black-as-death cross on my forehead. His words captioned my rough cross with the ancient admonition, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

For Ash Wednesday 2021, my church is offering my wife and me a baggie of blessed ashes for in-home use. We may impose them upon one another while that priest and those words are Zoomed to us. If I lived alone, I could impose them upon myself.

I think, Something about self-imposed ashes, or about a couple imposing ashes upon one another, feels emotionally and liturgically crass.

I also think, How could I possibly not remember that I am dust in this, our long season of pandemic? How could I, denied access to my community of faith, not remember that even the best moments of our one life shall in time return to dust?

COVID-19 has imposed dust and ashes upon me forever.

I am wondering what to do this Ash Wednesday. Even if our faith community were meeting in person, would I meet with it? Can I bear yet another Zoom with that congregation that evening?

God! I have had enough of dust and ashes!

I’ve had enough numbers of COVID-19 cases and death, hospitalizations, and ICU capacities. I’ve had enough news of climbing positivity rates, and agonizing, lonely deaths, and symptoms that linger for months.

I’ve had enough of the dust and ashes of economic crisis and emotional trauma and daily family stresses and month-upon-month separations and schools struggling to do their best and masks and controversies and political posturing and the denial that made it all worse.

And, imposing even more upon us than COVID-19 has, are the dust and ashes of our assaults upon ourselves. I have had enough of Black citizens killed by police, of police killed by anarchists, of democracy threatened by self-serving power, of our planet suffocated by greed and indifference, of too many of us captivated by callously-crafted conspiracy theories, and of all of us likely to distrust anyone distanced from us.

Yes, I am encouraged by vaccines and improved treatment methods. But I am angered by their often haphazard and inequitable administration, and I am troubled about what new COVID-19 mutations could portend.

I have had more than enough of dust and ashes stirred up by a virus that clings, sin-like, so close as to take our breath away, forever.

Nevertheless, I confess that I cannot let Ash Wednesday slip by unacknowledged. In the face of the suffering and death COVID-19 and the rest have imposed upon us, my face will bear witness to my trust that the cross triumphs over dust and ashes, including mine. Remembering my dustiness, I will repent of my despair, and trust Jesus. Forever.

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