Ash Wednesday: Blessing the Dust

Image: Blessing the Dust © Jan Richardson

Readings for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17;
2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

As we work together with him, we urge you also
not to accept the grace of God in vain.
—2 Corinthians 6.1

Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

—Jan Richardson

2016 update: “Blessing the Dust” appears in my new book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. You can find the book here.

An invitation into the coming season…

During Lent, most of my creative energies will be going toward the online retreat that Garrison Doles and I will be offering from Ash Wednesday through Easter (February 13 – March 31). We would love for you to join us for this journey and to stay connected with you in this way as Lent unfolds. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, the retreat is designed as a space of contemplative grace that you can enter from wherever you are, at any time that works for you.

We sometimes hear from folks who say, “I’d love to do this but I don’t have time for a retreat!” We totally get that, and so we have especially designed this retreat so that you can engage as much or as little as you wish, in the way that fits best for you. Rather than being one more thing to add to your Lenten schedule, this retreat is created as a way to open up some spaces for reflection and rest in the midst of your days.

If you enjoy The Painted Prayerbook, the retreat will be a great way to experience the kinds of elements you find here in a more frequent and focused fashion, with added features that will weave through the retreat and help to sustain you throughout the coming season. Plus, participating in the retreat is a great way to support the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook. Most of all, Gary and I would be so pleased to have the gift of your company in these Lenten days, and to enter together into the mysteries and gifts of the season.

If you have questions about the retreat, or concerns about things that you think might hinder you from sharing in the journey, please visit our overview page by clicking the retreat icon below. The overview page also has a link to a bonus page with FAQs. Please feel free to be in touch with me directly if you need further details. And please share this link with your friends—we’d be delighted to travel with them, too! (And we do have group rates available, for folks who want to share the retreat together near or far.) If you’d like to provide the retreat for someone as a gift, let me know, and we can easily make this happen.

Wherever your Lenten path takes you, in whatever company you travel: blessings and more blessings to you. Know that I hold you in prayer. Peace.

And for a previous reflection and blessing for Ash Wednesday, click the image or title below.

Day 1/Ash Wednesday: Rend Your Heart

For other reflections, blessings, and art for Ash Wednesday, also see my posts The Memory of Ashes, Upon the Ashes (which features the indomitable Sojourner Truth), The Artful Ashes, and Ash Wednesday, Almost.

[To use the image “Blessing the Dust,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

17 Responses to “Ash Wednesday: Blessing the Dust”

  1. Lisa Degrenia Says:

    I am blessed over and over again by your words and work. Even so, Blessing the Dust is now one of my favorite pieces. Simple, yet the flecks of gold in the grey say so much of God’s redeeming grace. Thank you for sharing it with us. May God continue to speak through your words and work. – Lisa <

  2. Maureen Says:

    Exquisite poem, Jan.

  3. Kellyann Says:

    Oh, amen!

  4. Paul J. Wharton Says:

    Thank you for yet another beautiful and insightful blessing.

    I am reminded of a quotation:

    “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.”
    — Soren Kierkegaard

  5. Robin Maria Pedrero Says:

    What a lovely piece, the poem and the art. Thank you for being a blessing.

  6. Padre Paschalis Says:

    Such a poem calls to mind the significance of the moment. A lovely piece in deed!

  7. Mpumi Nkosi Says:

    Blessed Lenten Journey 2013…

  8. Marnie Rourke Says:

    This is so magnificent, so full of the very Spirit of Lent! I so need that right now. We break into groups at my church to do worship planning. And I worked with the group planning for Lent, and during that planning someone said something about how the Ash Wednesday service didn’t include a sense of community and joy! Our pastor said nothing, and as a retired pastor I have to talk gently. So this evening most of those in our congregation will be dining together before worship. I can’t go. It is not about being right, though I am, this is a time of sacrifice, of giving up something, no matter how small, to remember the One who gave up everything. This is not a time of celebrating all I share with my friends and neighbors, but a time to contemplate and seek more of my relationship with God. I can’t go to dinner without being distracted from the meaning of the Ashes, which are not dirty dirt, but a sign of what I am and whose I am.

    I don’t know how to be connected with you. Do you send out daily emails, or is there some website I may go to? I sometimes am the one who offers the prayers as our weekly choir practice, may I read one of yours with them? May God bless you always.

  9. Bridget D-K Says:

    I am so grateful for this lovely poem and for the retreat I began with you today — “….So let us be marked….for claiming what God can do….inside the smudge we bear.”

  10. Wendy Kiddey Says:

    Thank you so much for the nourishment for the soul.

  11. Linda Treml Says:

    Namaste — with gratitude for this beautiful truth on this special day. A day to put aside regret, affirm life in the present as nurturing and acknowledge one’s eagerness to share the love of life with this world.

  12. Debby Thomas Says:

    Accidentally discovered your page while reading a post by one of my favorite non-profits for Women, Raven & Lily….perfect timing as always. The Rev.Shawn Schreiner, a friend since she was 12 “liked” your page and I so appreciate the rich resources you are gathering and presenting to an audience that might not be ‘gathered’ but for modern technology… Gertrude Mueller Nelson’s “To Dance with God” and Painted Prayers are among my collection, but thank you in advance to this introduction to new new and evolving liturgies. An opportunity for the Lenten journey.

  13. Geoffrey C. Schuller Says:

    What can I say but thank you very much. I found my personal Lenten journey. Your poem was speaking to me as I read It. You’re a Godsend to us all with your insights. Food for thought if you will. Keep keeping us on our toes. We need a little shaking now and then. I wish you every blessing and peace that comes your way. Someone from my parish in Bar Harbor told me about you . lo and behold here I am. The holy Spirit works in mysterious ways. I pray you both have a holy and rich journey. I ‘m glad that I can be apart of that with you. I’m a member of St. Saviour’s Episcopal church. Christ has Died. Christ has Risen. Christ will come again. Thanks again for your gift to us.

  14. Rev. Rebecca Turner Says:

    I love this blessing. May I print this, with proper acknowledgements, on a leaflet to be distributed on Ash Wednesday? It would go to fewer than 50 people. If so, please let me know how to best acknowledge you. Name and website?

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thank you so much, Rebecca! I would be delighted for you to print this blessing on a leaflet for Ash Wednesday. Thank you for including this info in a credit line:

      © Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace.

      Also, I made several small updates to the blessing when including it in Circle of Grace. I’ve just added those updates to the blessing here in this post, so if you’d use this version, that would be great.

      Thank you again, and many blessings to you and your congregation as Lent unfolds!

  15. Rev. Joyce Miller Says:

    I am a hospital chaplain. I shared “Blessing the Dust For Ash Wednesday” with my colleagues before we dispersed throughout the hospital for a day of imposing ashes. To a person, we were deeply moved by your words.

    After a full day of walking miles, praying and “ashing” patients family members and staff,literally hundreds, I feel like dust from the earth. I am indeed dusty, I have been travelling sacred ground. Thanks for your rich poetry, your words were bread for the journey.

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