This past Ash Wednesday, I was asked to assist with the Distribution of Ashes at a family prayer service. Although it would not be the first time I had performed that role, it had been a number of years, and it was a powerful experience. Some observations:
1) I found myself with a huge smile on my face, and as folks approached, their faces (more often than not) lit up as well. A little bizarre, when you consider that I was telling them to "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."
2) I have to admit that I prefer the alternate formula - "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." I think it describes the Christian life much more completely. Each time I said "Remember you are dust..." I said to myself "Not entirely!" Our physical body may be dust, but we are much more than that. Even once our bodies return to dust, we will live on in the loving embrace of the God who created us. Lent is a time to turn away from those things that place an unhealthy balance on the physical and reorient ourselves. To turn away, and be faithful! Metanoia, to use the Greek....
3) About halfway through, I realized that for some of the folks that came forth, this may be the last time someone traces ashes on their forehead. "unto dust you shall return." It was a profoundly intimate (and moving) moment for me.
4) "It felt right." I have been more intentional about discerning experiences related to public ministry over the past few months (especially those of a liturgical nature). The smile on my face, the prayerful meditation that took place while performing the act of tracing the cross on the faces of those who came forward, my ability to connect the physical rite to the underlying reality of our Faith - all of these strike me as signs that I am exactly where God wants me to be, and that this public form of ministry will be a good fit.