Ash Wednesday: A Blessing in the Ashes

Ash Wedesday CrossImage: Ash Wednesday Cross © 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

Let me hear joy and gladness.
—Psalm 51.8

We buried my husband’s ashes last April, two weeks after Easter. Gary’s ashes rest now in a stand of palmetto trees on the farm that’s been in my family for generations; the farm where, just a few short years earlier, Gary and I were married on a gorgeous spring day. As our beautiful family gathered by the palmettos last April, in sight of the barn where we had been married so recently, I was astonished by the brevity of the span between those two days.

On that day last April, I told our family about how, as Gary and I had planned our wedding, we knew we wanted it to be a day of blessing. So blessings wove throughout that day of celebration, offered by family and friends during the ceremony and reception. I also told our family that as the day of burying Gary’s ashes drew near, I had longed for it to be a day of blessing as well. And so, in the midst of our sorrow and grief, we offered blessings in celebration of the astonishing life that had come among us, and that lingers with us still.

In that spirit, as this Ash Wednesday approaches, I want to share a blessing with you. It’s one that I’ve shared here before. I am sharing it again because this blessing—which I wrote before Gary’s death—is one that I need to claim for myself, now more than ever. I need to claim the blessing that lives among the ashes. I want to be marked by that blessing, and by the Holy One who knows what to do with dust.

As Ash Wednesday and Lent draw near once again, what blessing do you need to claim from the ashes?

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
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

BelovedWith Gary’s wondrous son on the day we buried Gary’s ashes.

Previous posts:
I have a number of reflections and blessings for Ash Wednesday; to visit these, begin with this post at Ash Wednesday: The Terrible, Marvelous Dust.

For a broken heart: If Valentine’s Day is a difficult day for you or someone you know, I invite you to visit A Blessing for the Brokenhearted.

New from Jan Richardson
CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift in every season. Available in print and ebook.

Order the book


Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Ash Wednesday Cross,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

18 Responses to “Ash Wednesday: A Blessing in the Ashes”

  1. Katie McNabb Says:

    I just love the concept – what God can do with dust! Thank you so much for this beautiful image and inspiration for Ash Wednesday.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thank you, Katie! I’m grateful for your words and am sending many blessings your way as Lent begins. May it be a wondrous season for you!

  2. Grace Hillers Says:

    I read passages from your book Circle of Grace everyday, I am looking forward to and saving the lenten section for lent. You inspire me to look forward not backwards to what I had, my husband passed almost two years ago and your story has kept me going – day by day !! I also lost my little sister recently to breast cancer. Peace and Love to you, Grace

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thank you, Grace! I am so sorry about your husband, and your sister as well. May grace and love enfold you as you remember them, and may peace and hope come to bless you as your path continues to unfold.

      I am grateful for the gift of your words. Sending you blessings and love on this Ash Wednesday, and praying that this season will hold wonders for you.

  3. Valerie Sjodin Says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart through the process of grief. The heartbreak and hope reaching is felt deeply as I read your words and am moved in my own heart. I have ordered Circle of Grace and look forward to reading it throughout the seasons.
    Grace and Peace,

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Valerie, thank you so much! I’m grateful for your words and your thoughtfulness. Thank you for your ministry and for your beautiful work! Sending many blessings for this Ash Wednesday and beyond. May you have a wondrous season ahead.

  4. Janet Archer Says:

    Oh, what God can do with dust! Thank you for this poem that reminds me and renews me in my journey with Spirit, breath, Ruah that is in the dust and whirls all around me, and within me.

    Lenten blessings to you,


    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Janet, thanks so much! It’s wonderful to hear from you, and I’m grateful for the gift of your words. May you have a blessed Lent!

  5. DeAnn Miller Says:

    I am always struck by how your words speak directly to my heart. My wedding anniversary is today, we were married in 1979. He passed away from this world Jan 2, 2004. I miss him dearly and share your grief, thank you so much for expressing what I feel. We are so blessed to be the children of the King! I ordered two books one for me and one for the beautiful lady that is Director of Care and Concern at our church. She has helped my family in so many ways and this book is a perfect gift to bless and honor her!

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      DeAnn, thank you and bless you! I pray that some comfort came to visit you on your wedding anniversary yesterday. I wish you many blessings as you remember your husband.

      How lovely that you ordered a book not only for yourself but also as a gift for the Director of Care and Concern at your church! Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness.

      I am grateful for you. Deep peace to you as Lent begins.

  6. Liz Bidgood Enders Says:

    Thank you, Jan, for this blessing and reminder of blessings. Your life, in all of its beauty, brokenness and healing, is truly a gift, and I am grateful for your words and your spirit. Peace be with you this Ash Wednesday in your remembering and in your visioning of what is yet to be.

  7. Julie Deardorcc Says:


  8. Susan Fontaine Godwin Says:

    Beautiful Jan! I’m loving the blessings in your new book Circle of Grace…it’s one of my morning books. I will miss your online Lent retreat but will reflect on my notes and your reflections from last year. This is a new season without my Gary, who past away Dec. 5, but I am so blessed and encourage by the support and love of so many fellow pilgrims. Blessings to you dear one!

  9. John Says:

    Thank you Jan for your thoughts and reflections. My own beloved, best friend and the love of my life died this past September. I am still reeling from this amputation of a part of my being, there is not a moment that goes by that I don’t think of her, hear her voice and feel myself sobbing inside as I miss her so terribly. Your reflections have helped me in this time of Lent to embrace the deep loneliness and sadness that I continue to feel. I have always awakened very early in the morning when it is so very quiet, to pray, to read and to listen. Thank you for helping me to be courageous.

  10. Betsy Says:

    Jan, thank you for your life affirming words! Can you tell me if the Beloved Online Retreat for Lent is available online still?

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Betsy, thanks so much! The Beloved retreat isn’t available this year, but I look forward to offering it again in the future. A blessed Lent to you!

  11. Virginia Wieringa Says:

    This is a wonderful meditation. Thank you.

  12. Ashlee Wiest-Laird Says:

    thank you for this.

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