On Being Dust

Yesterday millions of people all over the world engaged in the ritual of having a cross marked on their forehead with ashes to mark the beginning of Lent. I like to think of Lent as a way to jump-start my relationship with God. In the pressure of everyday life I often find myself neglecting spending time with God.

O God, we have meant to love and serve you in everything we do, but we have given you only the leftover hour, the spare energy, and the momentary prayer. Have mercy on us.

We start Lent with an invitation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” Self-examination begins by recognizing that we are but dust.

As a father cares for his children,
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we were made;
he remembers that we are but dust. Ps 103:13-14

We are star dust. In the beginning, God gazed into nothingness and BANG! the universe exploded into being. Eventually stars formed. This beautiful picture from the Hubble telescope shows a cluster of young blue stars of the Tarantula Nebula.

In Science and Religion in Quest of Truth, John Polkinghorne writes, “Every atom of carbon in every living being was once inside a star, since the interior nuclear furnaces of the stars are the only places in the universe where this element can be made.”

That element of carbon could have been in a trilobite or a fern or a velociraptor or an oak tree, before being part of us. As plants and animals die, their carbon returns to the soil. New plants take up the carbon out of the soil and animals eating the plants transform the carbon into their own bodies. Carbon is essential to the cycle of life. Everything that lives is connected to every other living thing in an intricate web of being. We are part of that web of being.

We cannot understand ourselves if we do not recognize our interconnectedness with all of creation. What impacts the world, impacts us. In polluting and exploiting the world, we are polluting and exploiting ourselves.

God loves what God has created. God loves us. But we are only a part of what God loves. And we are often a troublesome part and we need to recognize that and repent of it.

Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return. You are beloved dust. And so is every other living thing.

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