“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
With these familiar words Lent is off and running. Every year we gather in this place to have the soot of burned palm crosses spread across our foreheads. And every year we gather to remember the central truth put forward by the 7th verse in the 2nd chapter of Genesis:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
We are formed by God and animated by God. We are both dust – of the earth – and breath – of God. We in the Christian tradition add to this mix the water of baptism, moistening our dust and breath so we can be like clay in the hands of a Holy Potter, shaped by Christ for Christ to be like Christ.
That is a lot to think about and it is a lot to remember! You are dust. You are breath. You are water. Perhaps a good way to begin the reflective season of Lent is to ponder each of these realities of your life.
The dust represents your physical, earthy existence. It is what you eat and drink. It is how your body works. It is how you allow your spirit to live and move and have its being in the things of the earth: in the warmth of the sun, under the flickering light of the stars, in the comfort of a soothing bath, in the arms of a tender embrace. Your dust needs its day. How is your dust doing? When do you pay attention to your dustiness? What more might you do to give your dust its due?
The breath represents God within you. Think of your own breathing. Most of your breaths come about through an unconscious process. You inhale and exhale most often without giving it a thought. So too, most of God’s presence in our lives happens because God is present without our conscious awareness. But then there are those times when we need to stop and “catch our breath.” In these moments we are very much engaged in the breathing process. These are the times we reach out to God for help or grace or guidance or forgiveness. The act of worship and regular prayer is something like the mindful breathing of yoga. The intentional inviting of God’s breath affects us. It does something to our dust. It helps our dust to settle down when it is being blown about by something other than God’s breath. It makes us healthy and whole and restores us to who we are to be. What might you do to be more mindful about inviting God’s breath into your life?
The water represents your baptism. Your old dust and breath drowned in this water so that you can rise to new life with Christ. It cleanses you. I refreshes you. It renews you. It allows you to be molded and shaped into the image of Christ. Where is your life like Christ’s? How might you acknowledge and celebrate the ways your life is a reflection of his? Is there an aspect or two of your life you sense you are ready to allow the Potter to reshape? Are there things about your life you do not want the Potter’s hands to touch?
Remember you are dust. What happens if you don’t remember this truth? Perhaps pondering the definition of the word “remember” might help. After a brief Google search here is what I found: Remember – “have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past)." To remember is to bring to mind an awareness of something you have known in the past.
Why remember you are dust? Well, I find my life goes better when I am aware of the world as God has made it – when dust is dust and breath is breath and water is water. I have had so many experiences of great clarity where each is what it is supposed to be. These are the times I feel most fully alive. The reality is these moments don’t last forever. They give way to forgetfulness, and sometimes to confusion, and sometimes to absolute distortion. I begin to treat the dust as if it is the breath – as if it is the thing that gives life. I treat the breath like it is dust – just another demand on my time. And there are times when I allow myself to be formed by liquids other than the water of baptism. Placed in the hands of other potters, and, at times, trying to be my own potter, my life begins to lose its distinctive, Christ-like shape.
Our remembering tonight is an act of recalling – remembering who we are – and it is an act of re-calling – accepting God’s invitation to live as dust with God’s breath in us and water of baptism working through us.