It is a very sobering thing to be told, "from ashes you were made and to ashes you will return" as the sign of the cross is made on your forehead.
This morning I attended an Ash Wednesday gathering with my church. Although I have been a Christian most of my life, this will be the first time that I have observed the the season of lent. For those unfamiliar the tradition, lent is the forty day period leading up to Easter. Just as Jesus fasted (did not eat anything) for 40 days in the desert, so Christians are also encouraged to fast during this period. While most people can not give up food for that amount of time (though I know some who have), it is possible to fast in other ways, such as giving up meat, desserts, entertainment, or other luxeries.
The purpose of fasting during this period is not try to impress God or show how good a Christian we are. In fact it's exactly the opposite. In fasting we better learn our own weakness and gain a greater perspective of how much we depend on God. By removing distractions from our lives, we are more free to focus on Christ and grow in our relationship with him. Deut. 8:3 says that, "man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." Fasting is a celebration of this fact. In reality it is not food, water, or shelter that sustains, but the Word of God, that spoke us into existance and sustains us to this day (Gen 1:1 Col. 1:15-20).