Being Dust: Ash Wednesday’s Gift

By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
~Genesis 3:19

Ash Wednesday is a tough gig. Reminding people they are dirt isn’t the best marketing strategy in a society who would like to forget our troubles.  And troubles we have. It’s not like we need more to feel crappy about right now.

Just the Monday morning post-Super Bowl vitriol that people spew towards the players, entertainers, coaches, commercials, or gambling decisions that let them down or made them mad is enough to make me want to crawl in a hole for a while. Then we get Donald Trump running away with the New Hampshire primary–that hole I was thinking of crawling in just starting looking like a pretty good place to call home.

And those are just the things going on in the world that are downers. Don’t even get me started about the stress and grief going on in my own house. Trust me, it’s not uplifting. I am sure many of you can match me stressor for stressor if we started to compare our lives.

And now it’s Ash Wednesday–that day in the church year that’s tagged as the buzz kill after Mardis Gras. Now we get to go to church and remind each other that we’re all just a bunch of dust.

This could be the tipping point, the last little speck of bad news we all need to just give up on life, a spiritual sucker punch when we’re almost down for the count.

It strikes me this year more than ever, however, that Ash Wednesday’s message is not bad news, it’s not a downer. Getting up close and personal with our dusty selves is just what we need in times like these.

The fact that we’re dust means we have a home–it means we belong somewhere that is teeming with life and with possibilities. If dirt and I are siblings, that means I share some of the same qualities that dirt has–it’s full of life, it’s resourceful, and it’s good at composting all kinds of crap.

Dust makes stars and seashells, dirt is the mother of trees and home to more species of insects than we can ever count.  Dust floats and settles into wherever the wind takes it–it’s adaptive, it’s resilient, it’s got staying power.

Dirt carries the fabric of the universe, it is the stuff of everything from rocks to earthworms to giraffes to you and me.  And it’s constantly refashioning itself into spectacular explosions of growth from fallow times.

Dirt is the connective tissue that whispers again and again–you belong here, you are one of us, you are intricately made, you are full of possibilities.

It’s the dust that will embrace us when we breathe our last. It’s the dirt that tells the story of our eternity:  death does not have the last word, it feeds a constant flow of emerging things taking their first breath, feeling their first kiss of sunlight.

The ashes on my forehead this year will be a great comfort in the midst of anxieties thumping through our collective psyche.

I, for one, am very thankful to be reminded of my sacred genetics.

I am a bunch of dust–that’s where I came from, that’s where I’ll end up. I am not alone, I am not forgotten, I am not wasted, and I am not unwanted. I am made to compost, I am made to regenerate. And when things die they begin composting something new right away, even before I can notice it or recognize it.

Ash Wednesday tells you and me that we are at home in this world. We are knit together with frailty and resilience. And our sister soil sings to us about home–a song Ash Wednesday invites us to learn by heart.


3 responses to “Being Dust: Ash Wednesday’s Gift”

  1. Mark Diehl says:

    Thanks, Marcia, for helping to move me back to ground zero! Your reflection reminds me of a quote by Karen Wegela (from How to Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance): “All the juicy, smelly, negative thoughts and feelings we have are the rich compost that lets our hearts mature.”

  2. Janet Beatty says:

    You remind me why getting dirt under my fingernails and smudged across my cheek and pants is so spiritual as I plant yet another crop of edibles that will miraculously grow out of that very dirt and nurture my family with good food. I crave the dirt in my garden as much as I crave putting my toes into the edge of the vast Pacific Ocean. God is in both those places. Both places are a source of rich conversation with God. (“I went to the garden alone when the dew was still on the roses. . . “). In fact, having left the church, I find a much richer and clearer relationship with God in these special places. I don’t have a smudge of ashes on my face today. I don’t need it. But I do have dirt under my toenails and fingernails, and I figure that is my Ash Wednesday blessing! ( and I need to get all that dirt off me before surgery tomorrow!!!)

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