It was the first Ash Wednesday service I'd ever attended. The mood within the church was solemn, reflective, the liturgy spoken in quiet voices. There was only a handful of people present -- Ash Wednesday isn't a big time like Christmas Eve or Easter morning and not everyone wants to walk around with a cross drawn in ashes on their forehead.

We came forward and knelt for the ashes and the Eucharist. The priests moved back and forth, stopping before each person. The first daubed the recipient's forehead with the ashes of the palm leaves we carried in celebration last Palm Sunday, almost a year ago now. "Dust thou art," he murmured to each of us before passing on, "and to dust thou shall return." Another priest placed the communion wafer in our upturned hands. "The body of Christ," he said, "the bread of Heaven." Then one came with a chalice of wine: "The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation."

I waited my turn and listened to the soft litany, the words repeated over and over, life shading into death, death giving way before life:

Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return.
The body of Christ, the bread of Heaven.
The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

I emerged from the church blinking in the sunlight. My lunch hour was up and I had to go back to work. I thought about washing the ashes off my forehead. Some people do that, and there's nothing saying you have to walk around with ashes on your head all day.

But I realized that Ash Wednesday would be over for me then. I would wash away the timeless moment I'd glimpsed during the service and surrender to the world of ringing telephones, pressing deadlines, and endless paperwork.

The world can wait another day, I thought, and I went back to work with a bit of eternity on me.