Today’s focus is on dust—the “dust” from which we are made, and the dust to which we will eventually return. In most churches the emphasis in the early days of Lent is about our unworthiness. Don’t get a big head about yourself. You’re no more than a pile of dust, and we all know that’s not worth much. In fact, it’s something to be looked down upon. We have been taught that Lent is a time to realize we are wicked, broken creatures, and though we are entirely unworthy, God will, in the end, save us.
This beginning rite of Lent always reminds me of the old joke about the little girl who looks under her bed, and then runs to tell her mommy that “there is someone under the bed, and they are either coming or going!” That’s what we amount to in the long haul: a dust bunny, which earns brief attention when noticed, then is quickly swept up and forgotten in the limbo of the trash can. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
We are made of dust, of course: stardust. Everything we know about, the entire Earth herself, was formed of the dust of a local exploding star. In a startlingly real sense, we have much in common with those dust bunnies under the bed; not only do we come from the same star stuff, but those clumps are formed mainly of sluffed human skin. We could just as easily say to the dust, “remember that you are human, and to humanity you will return”, because eventually that will be so. That star dust keeps forming and reforming itself, over and over, again and again. Remember: we are stardust, and to stardust we will return.
Our Genesis story of God creating humans out of the soil of the Earth is an amazingly accurate myth for our appearance on Earth. Most origin stories are. At a deep level humans seem to know, with or without the benefit of scientific discoveries, that we are one of the faces of Earth. Soil is a sacred and very important thing; without it we would quickly die. In fact, without the whole of creation, we wouldn’t be here at all.
I don’t believe humans are “wicked creatures”; surely all the effort that has gone into creating our Universe wouldn’t suddenly produce something horrible. I do, however, know perfectly well that we are capable of behavior that is pretty awful. We have a curious ability we call “free will”, and some of us do choose to commit horrible acts. Left to our own devices, we seem to be prone to actions that do not promote life in all its glory.
That’s why we need to spend time remembering who we are — and who we are not. That’s why we need all of creation around us to remember that we are all stardust, we are all “made in the image of God”, we are all necessary, we are all on a sacred journey together. And none of us is God.
In the end, it will be our ability and practice of returning to the Source of All Being that saves us.