Thinking about dust
You are dust, and to dust, you shall return. Gen 3:19
It is difficult to think of oneself as dust. Dust is not very nice stuff. Some types of dust blow around outside making things dirty, making it difficult to breathe, and obscuring vision. Other forms of dust collect anyplace that we do not keep clean in the house. Many people are allergic to the mites that thrive in house dust. There is not much that you can do with dust. It is ugly stuff. It has little value. Yet, as God’s creation of the world is recounted in the book of Genesis, we read, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.” Gen 2:7 Going further, the Hebrew word Adam, a male noun meaning man or humankind, derives from the Hebrew word Adamah, a female noun meaning ground. Our genealogy starts with someone named after dirt or dust.
We are nearing the beginning of Lent. On Ash Wednesday we will clearly be reminded of our origin when the priest recites the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return,” as he or she imposes the ashes on each congregant. Lent is a time to be mindful of our humble beginning and end. Within the Ash Wednesday liturgy, the celebrant offers, “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.”
Lent is a fruitful time for considering our stewardship of the wondrous creation with which God has entrusted us. We come from lowly dust, to which we will return. Yet, God directed mankind on the sixth day of creation to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Gen 1:28
Would you turn your household over to the dust within it to manage? The creator of all mankind mixes dust with his immeasurable love to bring forth creatures made in his image. Creation is God’s household and he has turned it over to mere dust; humankind. And then, in the freedom with which God graces us so, allowing our love to be freely given to him by choice, we stumble again and again. Yet throughout history, God continues his relationship with humankind, the unreliable stewards of his household, again and again acting to encourage us to repentance, to amend our ways, to return to faithfulness to him. Finally, Jesus comes, God incarnates, and then the cross. I am moved by the realization that Jesus stumbled through the dust on the way to his death, and that dust was mixed with his sweat and blood as he hung on the cross. There it was, mere dust, intimately present as the Son of God suffered for our weakness; we who came from dust.
Dust, even dust is chosen and empowered by God, needs to be humble. Lent is a time for working on our humility as well as rededicating ourselves. Psalm 51 informs us, “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:18 As wondrous as all that the Lord God provides us is, the greater wonder is that all that he seeks from us is an acknowledgement of our dependence on him and dedication, in love, to use our lives to his glory. This is hard work. It goes against both our natures and the urgings of our American culture. Part of our cultural makeup, originating from the creation of our country, is rugged individualism. That has served us well. But, it doesn’t work in our relationship with God. We are dependent on him. We are so dependent that it was necessary for Jesus to die that we might live. We are but dust, though dust loved by God. Lent is forty days during which we can by “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word,” put our rugged individualism back into balance with our dependence on and provision by God. May you be blessed with the observance of a holy Lent.