Today is the holy Catholic day of Ash Wednesday, marking the opening of Lent, a hearkening back to Jesus' 40-day fast in the desert before beginning his formal ministry. The streets of many nations will be filled with people with a cross drawn in ash upon their forehead as a sign of repentance. It marks an attempt for many Christians to reconnect with the actual teachings of their Savior.
Sadly, it doesn't work in most cases.
Even the most devout, once Easter has passed, suddenly forget the life and death of Jesus Christ, his words and his wisdom. They slip off the cloak of piety and slip on the armor of judgment, of pitilessness, of self-righteousness. They attempt to force the world to conform to their uninspired and often insipid interpretation of The Bible, the words of their Savior to become dust upon the ground. That dust, however, is not devoid of meaning. The dust and dirt that cover our Earth was a gift from the universe, mixed, recombined, forged, broken, and reconstituted millions of times, starting with the beginning of creation itself.
Jesus steeped himself in that dust. It bathed him, it cloaked him, it permeated him. He was at one with it, and at one with the wider universe. It touched him, brought him comfort, brought him solace, brought him wisdom. In that barren waste he touched the soul of the All. In the middle of windswept sands, no doubt vexed by thirst and hunger, he was tested. The blowing sand stripped away the world and left him naked to the truth. The dust and sand were the caress of the universe, touching a man's mind and showing him the secrets. He emerged from that desert clear of mind and set of a purpose: to tell others how to best serve God.
His message was not one of devotional subservience, though one should always make themselves humble before God. Instead, he explained that God was not looking for simple devotion; prayers did not make one pious or holy. Jesus told stories of men and women who -- through their faith -- took it upon themselves to connect with and provide succor for their fellow human beings. His message was very simple: you are judged for the works you do, not how often you pray. He made it clear that to withhold the best of yourself, to sit back in judgment, to surround oneself with plenty while others had none, were not the actions of the true adherents of God. Humanity was his congregation and selflessness was his liturgy.
They will forget this, the many who wander with the ashes upon their forehead, ashes from palms from last year's Easter celebration, ashes that are the dust of life, ashes made of the stuff of the universe. The ashes, they will not penetrate, nor permeate, the souls of these worshipers. One tiny amount ashes is insufficient to burn away a lifetime's self-righteousness; for that, you must take to the desert, stand among the billowing dunes, feel the fingers of the universe carve away earthly concern, and connect with the wider world. Only when one has been cleansed by the dust, can one see the Sun.