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Beginnings in Genesis – Ashes to Ashes

February 5, 2008

the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
                                                                                                                       genesis 2:7

There is one occasion every year when a person’s Catholicism was worn on their sleeve, or more accurately on their forehead.  Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent, which occurs this week. The story, (perhaps the mythology, I never knew for sure), was that the palms used the previous year on Palm Sunday were burnt and the ashes collected and then stored till Ash Wednesday the following Ashwednesday
year. At the Ash Wednesday ceremony, the priest makes the sign of the cross on everyone’s forehead with the ash. As he does so he recites ‘Remember that thou art dust and into dust thou shalt return’.

I have vivid memories of Ash Wednesday in NYC recently, as people lined up to receive the sign of their mortality and to hear the promise of their coming death. Outside the church on Broadway, the rest of the world raced by doing what they do on any given Wednesday. Inside, a priest sat, for an entire day, waiting for such worshippers who might enter in order to reminded of their ashey identity. For me it served as a useful reminder in these days of the quest for perpetual youth.

Apart from this particular annual occasion, the only other time these words will be spoke over me will be at my funeral.

The origin of the sentence lies here in the detailed story of the creation of humankind.

God now literally gets his hands dirty, bends down to the earth and with lump of dead clay he fashions a human being like a potter working with clay. This is artistic, inventive work requiring great skill. God bends close enough to this clay to kiss it. And he breathes on it. Actually the word is better translated ‘he blew’ on it. It’s the kind of blowing that gets a fire started, the fire of life.

The Hebrew word for ground or earth is athamah. The Hebrew for humankind is atham, later to be the personal name of the man. Indicating the close relationship between the man and the earth. He was created from it, he is to cultivate it and eventually he will return to it.

From → Genesis

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