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The Healing Dust of Ash Wednesday

The Healing Dust of Ash Wednesday 150 150 Nicole


. . . “then the Lord God formed hā ādām (the first person) from the dust of hā ādāmāh (the earth), into whom God breathed the breath of life; and hā ādām became a living being.” (Gen 2:7) Shaped from the same particles that make up the cosmos, the first person was fashioned—and will return. The first two people made in the very image of this same God. What does it mean, then, for the fullness of God’s healing to be accomplished?

This is what the ancient tradition of Ash Wednesday is all about: confession and forgiveness. And what is confession, really? It is recognizing the presence of God and acknowledging that I have not acted, not aligned my thoughts with the truth and character of who I am most truly—formed by the dust of the cosmos in the image of the Creator God. It is a return to my true self, a return from awkward to grace-filled relationship with my God. And it. is. holy.

If you are preparing your heart to pray with us over another these 40 days of Lent, the following are some notes on how to use the daily prayers.

The Mindfulness Spiritual Practice Sequence

The many poses of yoga are usually incorporated into a sequence designed to promote fluidity, balance, and centering strength. In much the same way, the inner, spiritual/soul “poses” of prayer often follow a natural spiritual sequence. The practice begins with centering, an inner focus of noticing the presence of the Spirit with the aid of scripture or word or image. When the mind and heart are quiet, a bit more time and attention is needed to build and protect that space. Spending time in the “pose” of quiet space and reflection is refreshing and strengthening. In a sense, an overflow of love and gratitude often follows, that needs to be extended outward, a graced prayerful “pose” intentionally offered to another.

One way we might remember this mindfulness spiritual practice sequence is with the alliteration, Notice, Nest, and Nurture.



To notice is more than just seeing. It implies intention. It is purposeful alertness to the facets of the object of your gaze. When you notice, something is activated inside. It evokes wonder and the possibility of more fully appreciating what you see. To notice is to allow the Creator to speak to your creative mind and heart—and become more of who you truly are.


Building a nest is also intentional. A safe space must be located (even if it is in a front porch’s light fixture!) Then, carefully gathering twig by twig to form a place of rest. It is a home base, a safe space, and it must be protected from those who might wish to harm the contents within.


Nurturing is more than speaking words to another. Once again, to nurture someone you must be intentional about it. Nurturing implies relationship and has the best interest of the other in mind. It makes both the nurturer and the one being nurtured more of who each is; more like God. To nurture is to actively love.

How to Use This Prayer Guide

Each day’s entry begins with a centering prayer. Begin by breathing deeply as a way of quieting yourself and opening to the Holy Spirit who is closer to you than your breath. The prayer is an invitation to God to speak to you in these moments.

Keep breathing.

Before each scripture passage you will be prompted to notice a word or phrase that catches your attention. You might read it in the way of Lectio Divina with the steps that follow, or pausing after each phrase. Whichever manner you choose or have time for, try to remain attentive.

Read passages each time slowly and reflectively, not primarily to gain information or analyze the text, but to hear God’s intention for you and the one for whom you pray. Read it four times (silently or aloud) asking a slightly different question each time, each reading is another twig to line the nest.  Allow for a few moments of silence after each reading.

  • In the first reading, listen for the word or the phrase that strikes you. In the silence that follows, just savor the word.
  • In the second reading, listen for the way in which your life is touched by this word. What is it in my life that needed to hear this word today?
  • In the third reading, listen for an invitation from God contained in this word. Is there something God is inviting me to be, or do in response to this word? What is my response back to God?
  • Read the passage a fourth time and rest in the word you have received in total abandonment to the love of God.
  • Resolve to “live out” the word you have received—nurture—as God leads.

Power in the Name

Blank spaces are provided in which you may write the name of the person or group toward whom your attention is directed. There is power in naming, a blessing to be called by name. I encourage you to actually write the name in the spaces provided and notice how the character of your prayer shifts (or doesn’t).



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  • Reblogged this on Howie's Blog and commented:
    I’ll be talking about this Prayer Guide and being a part of this tonight at the Ash Wednesday Service at 7pm at Downers Grove First United Methodist Church.

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About the author


Nicole Oliver Snyder’s expertise lies in the areas of leadership, gender issues, and mindfulness practice as it affects both. Leadership, particularly in an urban setting, requires community-relations skills, and an ability to clearly convey justice issues as they relate to felt, spiritual ones. Dr. Snyder is author of Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone, and specializes in teaching mindfulness leadership development, formative spirituality, counseling, and Old Testament theology (emphasis on justice issues). She has a diverse background in international community-relations work combined with volunteer work in multi-ethnic communities, and with local institutions. She is an ordained Clergy; holds a BS in Human Development and Family Studies, w/Education Certificate, an MA-Counseling, MDiv Equiv., holds a Doctor of Ministry and Advanced Certification in Formative Spiritual Direction, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (CO, MI).

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