Several years ago in my first year of chaplaincy I learned that there’s a little technique involved in imposing ashes. (Maybe you went to “ashes imposing class” in seminary — we didn’t have that class.)
I also learned that the ashes grind into my skin. Every wrinkle and crevice in my fingers are stained black.
I learned to keep cotton balls with oil in my pocket to moisten my thumb (or glove). And to have plenty of hand sanitizer after I imposed the ashes.
I learned that the simple words,
You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.
are powerful, poignant, and loaded with meaning when you are standing in the middle of an emergency room, or outside a doctor’s office, in a hospital room, or with hospice patients.
I learned that giving ashes is a tender, sacred, personal moment, one where, as pastors, priests, or chaplains, we are touching the human and finite with the promise of hope, Grace, and eternal life.
I learned that by giving ashes I gain so much more. My mortality is there, in front of me, for all the world to see.
My dirty hands.