However one looks at the ashes of a burnt out building, or, the remains of burnt palm tree branches, the powdery black dust is what penitents will have dubbed in the form of a cross on their foreheads Ash Wednesday, February 22nd, a day of fast and abstinence.
Ashes were used for healing in the past.
Healing from sin - missing the mark of God's law described in sacred scripture.
Ashes remind believers that one is mortal. That is, that she or he will die one day.
Furthermore, ashes remind Catholics, for example, that they are dust and into dust we will return.
We will live forever and are immortal when we pass over into heaven, unless one has other plans.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a 40-day trek through Holy Thursday's Mass of the Lord's supper. Fasting, praying and almsgiving are pillars of Lent.
People fast from food on Ash Wednesday. They have only one meal with two other smaller meals that do equal the one main meal. They also abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent, including Good Friday, days before Easter Sunday, commonly known as the Triduum - three great days of retreat reminding us of the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus the Christ.
These great days are quiet, stilling times to let go oft he false self, that is, the ego, and pretending to be other than who God made each of us.
Lent is a process.
A walk with Jesus in the stations of the cross, for example.
Families, friends, and others may pray the 14 stations of Jesus' agony and death together.
Ready, set, go!