By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you will return. – Genesis 3:19
Destruction. Death. Despair. On May 18, 1980, the landscape of Washington State changed forever. That was the day Mount St. Helens erupted, prompted by a 5.2 magnitude earthquake. The eruption not only sent volcanic ash 6-11 miles into the air, but also triggered an avalanche. Hot ash and debris tumbled down the mountain at 300 miles per hour toppling and covering over everything within 230 square miles. There were 520 million tons of ash and dust sent across the State of Washington creating a world of gray. The volcanic eruption and its aftermath killed 57 people and 7,000 big game animals like deer and elk as well as wiping out 12 million juvenile salmon in the watershed. The landscape was devastated – wilderness – no tree was left standing within 6 miles of the summit. The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption is known as the deadliest and the most economically devastating volcanic eruption in US history.
In May of 2015, CBS News published an article by Michael Casey titled, “35 Years After Mount St. Helens Eruption, Nature Returns.” The article specifically recounts the impact the eruption had on the 4,000 year old Spirit Lake, a pristine alpine lake with a depth of 200 feet. The lake was popular with tourists and hosted a healthy eco system. When the volcano erupted, Spirit Lake was buried in ash, the lakebed raised 200 feet and all its water was displaced. Spirit Lake no longer existed.
Everyone had resigned themselves to the fact that there would be no more life in the land adjacent to Mount St. Helens’ summit. “But,” the article says, “nature had other ideas. Because runoff still drained into the same spot, a new lake began forming.” It is shallower and smaller than the original Spirit Lake, no longer alpine in nature, but it is home to a whole new thriving ecosystem. And, Spirit Lake was not the only thing showing signs of life decades after the eruption. In fact, scientists were seeing life emerge in the form of ants and pocket gophers within the first year after the eruption. From the ashen wilderness of Mount St. Helens’ eruption, life came again.
Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday gives us a chance to begin again. It gives us the chance to recognize the times that we have been wrong, the times that we have omitted tasks, and the times when we have brought destruction, death, and despair instead of life. Ash Wednesday gives us the chance to begin again with God. God created us from ashes and dust and we will one day return to ashes and dust. In the meantime, how do we acknowledge the feelings of both God’s presence and God’s absence in the wildernesses of our lives?
As we embark on our Lenten journeys, what will we find in the wilderness? How will our wilderness time transform us?
Submitted by Rev. Rebecca Driscoll
 Michael Casey, “35 Years after Mount St. Helens Eruption, Nature Returns.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, www.cbsnews.com/news/35-years-after-mt-st-helens-eruption-nature-returns/.