3 Ways to Pray a Prayer of Mortality

An invitation to forgive quickly and to live gratefully, humbly and mindfully

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Posted in , Feb 24, 2015

Cross at sunset. Photo by Ingram Publishing, Thinkstock.

You may consider the words morbid. They may sound strange to your ears. That’s all right. You’re not supposed to like them. But you are supposed to take them to heart.

Not all followers of Jesus observe Ash Wednesday, and not all observe it in the same way.

But for centuries now, the imposition of ashes on that first day of Lent has been accompanied by the reminder, based on Genesis 3:19, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (An alternative phrase–“Repent and believe in the Gospel”–is sometimes used).

To some, of course, it can be an invitation to depression. But theologically speaking, it is an invitation to prayerful awareness. That our lives are fragile and fleeting. That we are not guaranteed tomorrow. That those around us–those we love, those we like and those we don’t–are also quite temporary. And it is an invitation to forgive quickly and to live gratefully, humbly and mindfully.

By now, of course, if you received the ashes, they’ve worn or washed off. But you can nonetheless continue wearing them throughout Lent by praying, at every opportunity, a prayer of mortality.

1)  You might preface each prayer with the imposition formula: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and follow it with “Nevertheless ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

2)  Or you may say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and follow it with “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21, ESV)

3)  Or, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” followed by “Yet ‘we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.’”(2 Corinthians 5:6-9, ESV)

Or you may decide on another “prayer of mortality” to pray through the season of Lent. In any case, let me suggest four occasions to do so:

1)  Anytime you pass or view a cemetery.

2)  When you see or hear the popular acronym, “YOLO” (You Only Live Once).

3)  As a funeral procession passes.

4)  When you see a newspaper obituary or hear news of someone’s passing. 

It may be no stretch for you to pray a prayer of mortality. Or it may be a totally new experience. It may even seem more than a little gloomy to you. But if it helps you to forgive someone or to be kind to someone or to live more gratefully yourself, it can be a wonderful way to pray…and to observe Lent.

How do you react to this suggestion? Does it seem strange to you? Or are you willing to try it? Or do you plan a different prayer practice this Lenten season? Please take a moment to share in the comment section below. 

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