By Zoe Matties – Manitoba Program Manager
Lent \ ˈlent \ : the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, observed by many churches as a period of penitence and fasting.
The season of Lent is one of my favourite times in the church calendar. It begins on Ash Wednesday, this year on February 17th. On this day, church goers traditionally gather together to be marked on the forehead with the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday palms. When they are marked, the phrase “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is uttered over them. This phrase comes directly from Genesis 3:19. It is meant to remind us of our humanity; our frailty, but also our ability to choose between good and evil. This phrase is spoken by God, as Adam and Eve are ushered out of the Garden of Eden.
But the phrase also reminds me of Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” In the Common English Bible, Genesis 2:7 is translated “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils.” It also translates Genesis 3:19 as “you are soil, to the soil you will return.” In the original Hebrew the word in these verses for man/human is adam and the word for dust/ground/soil is adamah. We could say then, that the human was created out of the humus. On Ash Wednesday we could say “remember you came from the earth, and to the earth you will return.” This isn’t meant to be a threat. Yes, it is a reminder of the inevitability of death, but it is also a call to return to our essence as God’s creatures and our connection with God’s creation.
Last week at our A Rocha Canada national team gathering we had the opportunity to hear from Cheryl Bear. Cheryl is from Nadleh Whut’en First Nation. She is a musician, scholar, theologian, and storyteller. She shared with us about the deep connection she and her community have to the land. I was struck by how she described this connection. She said it is beyond memory how long her Indigenous relatives have lived on the land. The very dirt of the land is composed of her ancestors, and when she returns to her community, she experiences “a deep exhale” as she crosses into the land.
I can hardly imagine being so connected to a place that the very dirt is composed of my ancestors. My history on the land I inhabit is so very short, and I mourn the loss of that kind of connection. I have, however, experienced the “deep exhale” as I return to a beloved place, and I suspect many of you have as well. As God breathed into us at the time of creation, our deep exhale is a reflection of that first satisfied breath of God. It brings us back to our connection with the Creator and the created. “Remember you are soil, and to the soil you shall return.”
Lent is traditionally a time of repentance, which means a turning or change of direction. This Lent, may we reclaim our essence as one of God’s beloved earth-creatures, and may we experience the deep exhale of connection to the Creator and to creation as we return to the earth we came from.
For as Christ’s death and resurrection proclaim, it is out of the depths of the soil that new creation emerges.
Here are some ways to connect to creation through the Season of Lent:
Pray: In particular pray for the human and non-human members of creation that are suffering from pollution, deforestation and climate change. Join the Lenten Prayer Group.
Plan your garden: Through covid, gardening has become increasing popular. Now is the time to start thinking about seeds, and plotting out what you are going to grow, and where!
Plant Easter Grass: If you plant Easter Grass at the beginning of Lent, it will be quite tall by the time Easter comes. Let its growth be a reminder to you of the new life that comes from the soil.
Take up a practice: you could try walking everyday, or sitting among creation.
Give something up: Try doing a fast such as fasting from plastic, or eating meat.