Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I heard an interview recently with a scientist who said that we, everyone and everything, are made up of dust. Ancient dust. Dust from stars that have long ago disappeared. From planets long since destroyed. Dust from people whose names only a handful of folks would have known. And that our dust is and will be the building blocks of future creations.

I found that idea fascinating, if also a little humbling. I like to think of myself as unique, a specific, individual creature. I was created out of the woman who bore me, and am a contemporary creation. I look forward, not backward. My flesh and blood is a lively blast of chemical reactions. My value to the world comes from what I do, what I contribute. Not from the raw material that isn’t unique to me, or that I have little control over.

As much as I would like the opposite to be true, maybe the scientist is right. I know the bible would agree with her. I am dust, and to dust I will return. The same goes for you.

I don’t know about you but my dustiness is not something that I like to dwell on. But I find that I have to. In my job I’m always getting peoples’ dust on me. Sometimes the air is so thick with dust that my lungs can’t expand and contract like their supposed to.

Death - dustiness - is a big part of my job. And it’s not only physical death, but the death of relationships, the death of personal dreams. The living death of abuse, failure, rejection. The death of loneliness and depression.

But, of course, it’s in Death - capital D - where my clothes get caked with peoples’ dust.

When a life has been stolen from us, a person gone, a presence lost, we work hard to make sense of it, and we SHOULD try to make sense of it, to create meaning so that we have some semblance of resolution, that death will mean something, that life will not be forgotten, that the gifts shared with the world will not disappear with their physical presence. So, we look for hope, something to hold on to so that the memory and presence will still live in and among us.

Or when we’re staring down the barrel of our own death, we worry about what we’ve done, if we’ve loved well enough, if we’ve worked hard enough. We worry that when we close our eyes at the last, it will be final. No one will be there to greet us. We don’t want to be dust. We want to be more than dust. We want to float free from our physical bodies and soar, bird-like into heaven.

But the bible asks us to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

Not a terribly comforting message, is it? It doesn’t soothe our anxious souls or mend our sorrowing hearts. It tells us that everything we’ve done, everything we are, is only a momentary trickle of water into the vast ocean that is eternity. It confronts us with the painful truth that life is brittle, short, and often painful. It tells us that we are not in charge of our destinies but that our hope for eternity lies outside of ourselves.

We are asked to remember that we are dust and to dust we will return.

Some might see our primal dustiness and think that life is cheap, that we are mere specks, insignificant. That our little lives end up meaning nothing. If we are dust and will return to dust, what’s the point of life?. All that we have, all that we are, will simply scatter into nothing. Even those who remember us will become dust themselves, and with them, the knowledge that we ever existed.

But this is where God would interrupt our protests saying, “Yes, you are dust. You will become dust again. But what marvelous dust – fine dust; dust that is precious, beautiful, and rare. Dust that isn’t swept up and disposed of - forgotten - but dust that scatters and blows to all ends of the earth, and interweaves with the dust of every time and place.

‘Without your dust, there would be no creation, no life, no joy, no love. Without your dust there would be no sun, no moon, no stars. Without your dust, there would be no people, no fish, no moose, no eagles. There would be no Rocky Mountains, no Pacific Islands, no deserts. No boreal forests, no northern lights, no forests of evergreens. The whole cosmos would cease to exist. Everything that exists needs your dust. Without your dust there would be nothing.”

St. Paul tells it a different way: he says that we are treasure in clay jars. He tells us that we are fragile, weak, limited; but also that we are cherished, unique, and lovely; that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves and that we are not alone – even in death. And when we receive that gift of connectedness with awe and humility and hope, we become connected more deeply to each other and to God, even when, or perhaps. especially when our physical bodies have passed into dust.

From dust we came, to dust we are returning, blowing with the dust of the ages, the dust that God gathers from every time and every place, from everyone and everything that came into being. The dust of suns long since burned out and the dust of galaxies just being born. God is molding these dusty fragments together, sprinkling in the water of life, making whole that which is broken, reshaping, remodeling, renewing the cosmos into a place where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more good-byes. Only hellos to a new universe to which God is always giving birth.

So remember that you are dust. And to dust you will return. Amen.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home