Last year at this time, I was reveling in France. In February, the Mardi Gras Parade in Nice is one of the world's major carnival events before the fasting of Lent begins.
Lent, “originally a pagan festival of preparation for Spring called Lencten, it had been re-purposed by the early church as a time of penitence and self-denial in preparation for Easter. The reason for the season, of course, was the doctrine of Original Sin -- the belief that humans are born in need of Christ’s redemption and that Jesus suffered on the cross for our salvation.” If you believe “the story”, it can be a promising, transformative ritual that inspires one to a moral and just life.
The gateway to the season is the Ash Wednesday ritual. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Smudging the black ash in the sign of the cross on the forehead, I’ve declared many a destiny to be mere dust, trapped in a theological loop; sinful, penitent, redeemed, sinful. Did you ever wonder where the ashes come from? The leaves, waved last year on Palm Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ victory over evil, have been burned to ashes. As I was saying, trapped in a loop. It’s a destiny many a parent holding a newborn have rejected.
This year, I'm at home. With more time to reflect, I’ve come to this. The stories we believe are the stories we live. Take the story of original sin. It means you and I miss the mark, the mark being the self-less life of Jesus. Not only are we destined to live out of relationship with God, unless redeemed, but Earth too. So we live saying, "we're only human." It's a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card that’s justified centuries of planetary devastation. This human-centered story has entitled us to be more focused on our personal salvation for eternity that the sustainability of our future Earth community.
Where did the story come from? Consider the cosmology of the early Church. Heaven was separate from earth; divinity separate from humanity. From dualism, the myth of separation has licensed environment devolution and reduced the magnificence of being human to ashes.
Christian by baptism, Earthling by birth, and an Evolutionary by conscious choice, I need three things. Rites and practices that free me from self-denying beliefs, and evolutionary rituals based on a new sacred story. So, Ash Wednesday, 2021, I offer you this story.
In the beginning, out of the simultaneous creation and annihilation of elementary subatomic particles, the dance of mass and energy began. Born out of nuclear fusion, primal stars began their journey to death. In dying, the stardust was scattered seeding more suns and planets. Again, at Earth’s beginning, single cells, destined, that is coded with death as a way of new life, died to become multi-celled, sexual beings. In the cosmic ballet, everything is raw potentiality, sacred stardust, destined to become beings of holy significance.
When this story is turned into a ritual things change. I am destined to be not mere dust, but stardust! Rituals become evolutionary, vessels aiding the emergence of life-giving religions and societies. The dance then is from Ash Wednesday to Stardust everyday!
Wednesday, February 17. 730, It's going to be an Evolutionary Event!