“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
So God spoke to the man and the woman in the Garden of Eden as an aide-mémoire of human mortality. Even more, as a declaration of the loss of innocence, and with it life’s purpose of intimate, harmonious co-existence with God.
Early this morning, winter’s overcast skies suddenly parted and a ray of light poured through the window. For an instant, I was mesmerized by particles of dust; a moment before invisible, now exposed, floating in the air.
Dust. So insignificant. Lying around loosely, stirring up easily, drifting about aimlessly, landing again lightly, and, inevitably, with every shift in the air, repeating the cycle.
Dust. That’s me.
Even with responsibilities to shoulder and tasks at hand, I, at times, lie around rather loosely, uncertain of my life’s purpose. I come to a day’s end. The next morning the sun will rise (or so I hope!) and the diurnal journey of being here and there, doing this and that will begin again. Sometimes I wonder. What’s the point? What greater world of good will I do beyond the maintenance of my life?
And I, an emotional person with deep feelings, passions, like dust can be stirred up. When life’s circumstances or world events go awry (or other than I desire), I can fly around aimlessly until I calm down and land again; almost inevitably repeating the cycle the next time something or someone disturbs me.
Dust. Yep, that’s me.
On this Ash Wednesday, many folk will have their foreheads anointed with ashes accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I will submit to this ancient ritual as a personal memorial, acknowledging that I am dust, mortal, destined one day to die. I also will accept the anointing of ashes as a sign of my awareness that our existential dustiness is a common mark of all humanity. Hence, I am one with every human being, irrespective of differences of sex and race, culture and class, origin and ethnicity, theology and ideology. I am part of all and all, part of me.
This reality reminds me of my life’s purpose: to live with justice and compassion, fairness and benevolence for all.
This will be my focus, my labor this Lent: to behold and to hold steadfast this truth. For such renewal I surely, sorely need, for I, like loosely lying, easily stirring, aimlessly drifting dust, spend so much time living otherwise.