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“Dust and Ashes”


TITLE: "Dust and Ashes"
AUTHOR: Brian Wren
COMPOSER: David Haas
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3098
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 42:1-3; 63:1; John 4:4-15; Hebrews 12:12-14
TOPIC: ashes; Ash Wednesday; call; Lent; desert; disciples; failure; fault; greed; grief; guidance; Living Water; nation; oppression; pride; repentance; resurrection; sadness; struggle; strife; washing


Lent is the forty-day season (excluding Sundays) that precedes Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday, includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and ends on Holy Saturday. It has been a time of fasting and penance and of preparation of converts for baptism on Easter.

"Ash Wednesday emphasizes a dual encounter: we confront our own mortality and confess our sin before God within the community of faith." The dual themes of Ash Wednesday are "sin and death in the light of God's redeeming love in Jesus Christ" (United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 321). Historically, ashes have been used as a sign of mortality and repentance in both Jewish and Christian worship, and they help us participate in God's call to repentance and reconciliation.

The worship song "Dust and Ashes," in appropriately emotional and expressive musical style and textual content, recalls these Lenten and Ash Wednesday themes and sets the right tone for the day and the season. It is an ideal song to use on Ash Wednesday during the imposition of ashes or as a congregational song during the service.

Brian Wren (b. June 3, 1936): Educated at New College, Oxford (B.A., 1960), Mansfield College, Oxford (B.A., 1962), and Oxon (Ph.D., 1968), Wren was ordained in the Congregational Church in Essex, England, in 1965, which merged with the Presbyterian and Disciples' traditions to form the United Reformed Church in 1972. He has served as a local church minister (1965-70), a Consultant for Adult Education for a joint committee of the British Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church (1970-75), Coordinator of Third World First, a non-profit campaign on world poverty (1977-82), a freelance minister focusing on worship enrichment and congregational song (1983-2000), professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, USA (2000-07). He retired in 2007. In 1991 he married the Rev. Susan Heafield, an ordained United Methodist pastor. Wren continues to write hymns and co-lead events with her. Wren has published hymns in all major hymnals, including fourteen in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), three in The Faith We Sing (2000), and two hymns and seven worship items in Worship & Song (2011).

David R Haas: Born in 1957 in Bridgeport, Michigan, Haas is an American author and composer of contemporary Catholic liturgical music. His most popular songs include "You Are Mine," "Blest Are They," "We Have Been Told," "We Are Called," and "Now We Remain," as well as several Masses, collections of ritual music, and collections of psalm settings and paraphrases. Haas has produced more than forty-five original collections and recordings of liturgical music and authored more than twenty books on the topics of liturgy, music ministry, spirituality, religious education, and youth ministry. His music is sung throughout the world and appears in many hymnals of various denominations and languages. He has studied vocal music performance and conducting at Central Michigan University, and he has his degree in theology and music from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Haas is also known for his early collaborations with Michael Joncas and Marty Haugen. For many years, the three of them were an important influence on liturgical music in the English-speaking world. They traveled throughout the United States and beyond for many years, presenting concerts and workshops. They remain friends to this day.


Note the content of the three stanzas as the song is sung:

  • The ashes recall our personal failings and shortcomings.
  • We confess our sins of greed and pride, including wealth and nation, that sometimes lead to oppression.
  • In our depression, gloom and grieving, we search for resurrection

Through all these circumstances, the Holy Spirit is with us, leading, "bringing us to living water."


The call and response pattern and the contemplative nature of the text and music make for a variety of uses.

  • An a cappella duet of two voices
  • Two-part choir
  • Soloist and congregation
  • Congregation's part reinforced with an additional instrument

Use simple accompaniment of keyboard or guitar. Note that the sixth degree of the scale is completely avoided in the melody, although it appears in the accompaniment, resulting in a kind of modal tonality centered around D minor.


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