remember you are dust and to dust you will return...
…The words spoken over us on Ash Wednesday, standing in line with the other humans, as a thumb dips into ash and prints the sign of a cross upon our forehead. A cross of ash, a reminder of the crown we all get to wear one day. But how many people find their way into that ritual? Fewer and fewer in these parts I’d guess. We have reasons to forget.
Remember you are dust…and that’s literally the case: most of the elements that make up our bodies were formed from the stars. We are children of stars long gone.
And to dust you will return… I suspect we treat our finitude as a theoretical possibility – when death shows up it’s an inconvenience – bit of bad luck. I reckon the average description of returning to dust is: something that happens to someone else. Until what we have loved is dismembered back to dust. Then we remember what we try to forget.
Today is Miriam’s birthday. A birthday she shared with my father. Last night before she went to sleep we made a wee space to pray. It’s called heart bread: we remember one thing from the day that was good, or we are grateful for, and one thing that was not so good. We offer these things to God.
At the close of her prayer Miriam asked for a blessing on my father, who died in November. She said “I felt it was important to remember papa, because it’s his birthday tomorrow.”
And in that moment my dad was re-membered: put back together as being more than his death, as still being real through our desire for his good. Which of course he is. And death too is a part of becoming real.
This is what C.S. Lewis had to say about it:
I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of (conversation) with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him? . . .CS Lewis
There are people no longer here whom I remember in prayer. When I do it’s the words of the Scottish episcopal Church I find best:
“peace, perpetual light and the good purpose of thy perfect will be accomplished in…”
All that a bit too morbid? I suspect only if we don’t want to remember we are dust and to dust we shall return. That remembering is part of becoming real. And in Christ we are given confidence in becoming real. What is it Saint Paul says? “For you have died and your life is hidden in Christ with God”. We are now inseparable in life and in death from the goodness of God.
God is divine breath breathing. Humanity the divine breath breathed. How do we separate divine breath breathing from divine breath breathed? They are neither quite the same, nor are they completely different.”Martin Laird, Ocean of Light
Where might it take us to consider this part of our reality today? Dust – but dust that’s loved and called to realize itself as loved and to return that love – a love bigger than our finitude. Dust that’s remembered by Jesus in the reality of God.