I’m still in the dust. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday — the set apart time to mark the beginning of Lent, and a distinctive time to remember that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19c). I woke up this morning realizing that myself and all of us are in between the dust. God formed us, breathed life into our nostrils, and now we’re doing the complicated, strange, and beautiful work of living.
Throughout our lives, from the beginning to the end, we are between the dust. As I reflected on this reality, the opening scene from Pixar’s new(ish) movie Inside Out came to mind. The screen starts off blank, and the viewer then watches as the screen’s eyes seem to open for the first time, and two parents come into view. We realize that we are looking out of the eyes of a newborn infant name Riley, and that the narrator herself is the emotion, “Joy.” Joy helps this little infant create happy memories of her parents’ loving and doting faces.
Immediately after that life-breath flows through her lungs, she begins learning about this world that God has gifted her. After she experiences Joy, she also meets Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, and those characters shape how Riley processes the world, and how all of us process the world.
I was talking with my grandmother yesterday, who is now in her 80’s. She and my grandfather live in an independent living facility, which has blessed them with a plethora of new friends and community. Sadly, one of their good friends died yesterday morning. After I offered her condolences she quietly stated, “This is what happens when you live a long time. People die, because everyone dies.” We see the other side of the dust. Having worked as a hospital chaplain for some years now, I see the other side of the dust quite often. It can happen after weeks of struggle or in the briefest moment, but ultimately, as Ecclesiastes claims, “dust returns to the earth as it was before, and the life-breath returns to God who gave it” (12:7). Regardless of where we are on our life journeys, we are always between the dust.
Contemplating our “dustiness” often does not feel great; it can provoke questions of existence and feelings of discomfort. As we consider what we’re doing with the dust and the breath that God has given us, we also see how our hopes and dreams match up with reality. We have been given the Lenten season as a time to do that difficult work of stepping back, looking around, and making some changes so as to reconcile and to energize our relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves. So may we today enter into that sacred process, and begin with the question, “What shall I do while in between the dust?”