Ashes

A yearly reminder, whether I observe the day in the traditional way or not, of one absolutely central reality of life and the Faith that is entirely too easy to neglect in practice:

Of myself, I am nothing and less than nothing, and have nothing; Jesus Christ is everything.

Even in this life, sooner or later anything that I think is mine, or that I think I have accomplished, crumbles to dust, leaving me with nothing but ashes. (Or at least it seems like everything.) Largely due to my own neglect or worse (though entropy and other results of the Fall don’t help). What’s more, even “of myself, in my own strength,” I have accomplished and can accomplish little—nothing of true value.

And in the end, everything shall be tested, and only that which is eternal—from above—will last; everything that is truly mine will be consumed.

But Jesus Christ is of such surpassing, and lasting, value that to have the smallest share in him and his righteousness is worth more than any earthly good, and is worth any cost.

Why then do I live as though my life were my own, with even a moment here or there (let alone hours, days, years) spent on lesser things? As the Roman poet Ovid put it, “Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor” (“I see and approve the better, [but] I follow the worse.”) God help me!

And indeed I must be conscious of danger. As Isaac Watts wrote in the hymn beginning “Broad is the road that leads to death,”

The fearful soul that tires and faints,
And walks the ways of God no more,
Is but esteemed almost a saint,
And makes his own destruction sure.

And, as Lewis has Screwtape write in The Screwtape Letters,

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

Repentance is difficult—humanly impossible, in fact—but necessary. Thus Lent. “I believe; help my unbelief!”

For dust I am, and to dust I shall return; I am not my own, but belong to Jesus Christ.

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