Today is Ash Wednesday. As we begin the Lenten journey to the cross, our first act is to remember that we are mortal. From the moment of our birth, the only thing that is certain is that we will die. As we prepare to decide whether or not we really will follow Jesus the whole way - including picking up our cross - we have to face this reality.
What kind of death will it be? Will it be a meaningless, empty death, spent after a life running away from this reality? Or, do we stand as God created us, knowing that death is not the enemy, the grave not the final answer to our lives?
Before we make that decision, though, we have to look the abyss squarely in the eye. The choice is not, and has never been, between heaven and hell. The choice is between life and the void. Before we can make that choice, though, we have to look at that void with honesty, without fear, and call it by its name.
We have to own it. Mortality is ours, as much as anything else. Only after owning death can we decide how to spend the only thing that is truly ours.
Before we are marked with the cross, we are marked with the ashes that tell us we are nothing but dust.