As I write this, folks are remembering they are dust.
In the first church where I was a pastor, we had a “hobby show” one Sunday during Coffee Hour. The idea was simple – members of the congregation were invited to take a table to showcase their hobbies as a means of deepening community.
Honestly, I don’t remember what everyone brought. I think there were some wood carvings, quilts and maybe some crochet? I can’t remember anything… because there was one individual who brought a collection that I’ll never forget.
Win Redding was ancient. She was the sort of person that much of the time had you second-guessing if she was being serious. On this day, she sat behind a table with a display featuring several plastic bags each with carefully lettered labels.
It was her dust bunny collection.
Some were found under the bed. Others behind the fridge. She had one from a friend’s home as well (part of a traveling collection). And she presented all of this with a straight face. When I approached her table, she looked up, motioned to the rest of the room and quipped: “I figure it’s all dust anyway”.
On Ash Wednesday I remember Win. I also recall those whose foreheads I smeared with ashes in order to remind them of their mortality… especially those few for whom I knew that death would come soon.
I remember that we are dust (and isn’t it all dust anyway?) and know that people recall their mortality not just on this day, but all the time. Visit any floor in any hospital and amidst those working brilliantly and compassionately to stave off death… well, there it is. We are dust.
Sometimes we are lots of dust. Wars in forgotten places (because those involved don’t look like us or because they involve countries we can’t find on a map), tsunamis, drought, earthquakes, and deaths due to pandemics – all of these become tally marks symbolizing those who died far too soon.
We are dust.
From the comfort of my couch this week, I watched war unfold in Ukraine, and heard the words of heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk: “My soul belongs to the Lord and my body and my honor to my country”.
Everyone dies, and yet… we have choices in how we live and breathe until that time. Daily we are reminded that we are mortal but also that each day we have been given the choice on how we shall live.
Today as people are smudged with dust and ash, we are reminded that we are of dust and to dust we will return. Some folks will use alternative language: “repent and believe in the Gospel”.
This year, I believe I will do both.