“Dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
These are familiar words. We’re used to hearing them with the accompanying physical mark of ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads. This year at Common Ground we didn’t enact the ritual of this symbol, but we were nonetheless reminded of these words in a visceral way.
The landscape around us provides this variation on the message of the ashes. It may not be very dusty right now, discounting the dust of snow, but if we listen we can still hear from it those familiar words, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
The heart of that phrase is a reminder of human mortality. We are finite, we have limits, there will come a day when our lives will end and we will be joined back to the dust of the earth from which the first human in Genesis came. In our world where every problem has a solution, every desire has a means of satiation, and individual fulfillment is our highest end, these words are even more poignant. In the midst of our lives where we seek to grasp control, this phrase cuts to the depth of our ultimate lack of control, our lack of control over our very existence.
Phew! Maybe a little bleak, huh? Why is this something that we would want to be reminded of? Isn’t it better to live in blissful ignorance, pretending that we will never end, or at the very least avoiding a yearly reminder of that fact?
I said the landscape reminds us of this phrase of dust. The landscape right now is full of swirling snow, piling drifts, and frosty trees. Because of this landscape we weren’t able to have our Ash Wednesday service, we weren’t able to receive ashes and hear that we will return to dust. But the storm reminded us anyway. Even if the storm wasn’t as intense as predicted, it still altered plans and canceled events. It forced us to stay home. To wait. To pause. Because, ultimately, we weren’t in control.
But sometimes when we let go of control or control is taken from us, joy can come if we watch for it. In our house that joy was a board game afternoon because of an unexpected snow day. In yours maybe it was a chance to rest because plans were canceled.
May we live with this reminder as we move into the season of Lent. May we seek to release our desire for control and with it the accompanying stress and anxiety that we so often feel. May we have eyes to see the joy around us, especially when it is most unexpected. And may we be reminded, in the most helpful and least bleak way possible, that, “Dust we are and to dust we shall return.”
Grace and peace, Pastor Andrew