The skull of motivation (Ash Wednesday)

Today is Ash Wednesday. Some Christians are in the habit of putting ashes on their foreheads because they symbolize our mourning and regret for sin.

But ashes also symbolize our mortality. This recalls Genesis 3:19 where Adam was punished for his disobedience to God and made to work the soil from which he came: “for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Do you know that you will die? It could happen any day. Any time. Whether you’re ready or not.

Nikos Kazantzakis had a profound and troubling experience as a child. He calls it a sort of spiritual wound. He witnessed a gravedigger and priest having to dig up the bones of a neighbour named Annika. He saw her skull.* Some things are hard to un-see. It made him question why people die and to ponder the shortness of life.

Imagine seeing the lifeless skull of someone you know—who you know personally and who you have cared about. What if, in the future, someone else saw yours!

What are you doing with the limited time you have left? You have fewer days on earth today than you did yesterday. 

Perhaps Ash Wednesday is a day not only to ponder and repent of sin, but to reassess what in the world you’re doing—or, rather, what you’re doing in the world.


–*Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 50-51.

–Interested in fasting? He’s a backgrounder I put together on the subject for an event in 2021.

–Bible quotes are from the NIV. 

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