Of Productivity and Dust

Next week we mark the beginning of Lent with ashes on our foreheads and the words reminding us of our dustiness in our hearts. Those words resonate this year more than others – and not only because of the number of lives lost due to COVID; they serve as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of our lives.

Early last fall I quoted Dr. Aisha Ahmad who offered a helpful observation about how individuals in disaster zones hit THE WALL at around six months. The idea was that this somewhat sudden inability to work, play or even cope was normal. Her prescription for this was to not attempt to push through, but to rest with the knowledge that THE WALL was temporary.

That was six months ago. Which suggests… we’re due.

Her more recent tweets (yes, I’ve become a fangirl) offer a slightly different reflection this time around. She points to how her university offered a “pandemic productivity” seminar which was then cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances”. She then proceeds to critique the culture of productivity during a pandemic.

Dr. Ahmad’s theory is that we’re all living in this “uncertainty vortex with a thousand moving variables that affect what we can and cannot do each day”. This high rate of variability means that there are days when we have the illusion that we’ve got this. We can be highly productive, forward-moving individuals (and dare I say churches?) in spite of a global pandemic: We are WINNING at this. Of course, variability being what it is, there are also days when we can’t find our way off the couch.

Ahmad suggests that there are no “tips and tricks” to work under the level of uncertainty that we are all dealing with. She also points out that being productive in these circumstances is less about merit than it is about privilege. 

Her words are akin to a thumb placing ashes on my forehead reminding me that I am dust.

We’ve talked ourselves into believing that that being unproductive during a season marked with death is some sort of moral failure. It’s this sort of theological trap that makes us believe that those who succeed in life (an in a pandemic) are those who have been blessed by God. It’s the other side of the prosperity gospel – two sides of a very ugly coin. 

Perhaps as we move into Lent we might take on the discipline of accepting grace. What you can and cannot accomplish during this time is no indicator of your worth: you are not the sum total of what you are able to get done in a pandemic. Perhaps we might also consider the Lenten discipline of extending that same grace to others. 

Remember that you are dust. Remember that you are God’s.

It is enough.


Wonderful Lenten reflection for this hard year in which we’re all trying to be faithful.

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