It has been a dusty few weeks. The decrepit heating system in our house got replaced and a light film of murkiness descended in its wake, alongside holes which periodically deposit a sprinkling of plasterboard in the places where radiators were pulled from the walls.
To join with the general commotion, I am attempting to sand down the wall which has chalkboard paint on it, and with it suffering from a case of black snot.
A few weeks back it was Ash Wednesday, a day to be prepared for the season of Lent. With the imposition of ashes it is said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”
When we remember that we are dust, it is easier to remember who God is apart from us.
It is God who remains, who is faithful, who is holy.
And yet, as the second poem reminds us: do you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?
Somehow we rest in an understanding of ourselves as humans that is both low and high. We are ephemeral, dirty dust called to live out unchanging, holy grace.
Ash Wednesday, Offshore
We cordoned the bay from the ocean and it did not contain the spill.
O God, who created the earth,
We used napalm and explosives to breach the freighter’s tanks
and discovered more fuel on board than we originally believed.
whose spirit hovers over the water,
Daily we counted the dead or injured grebe, sanderling,
and snowy plover. We knew that soon some would have built nests.
who said, Let it teem with living creatures,
We began an investigation. We said,
Oil-spill prevention has become good business.
and let birds fly above the earth,
The predicted storm arrived. Twenty-five knot winds
blew across twenty foot seas. We waited for the water to calm.
We towed the mangled vessel two-hundred miles
to where the ocean drops six-thousand feet. Coast guard
and naval ships fired at the bow to sink it, and it sank.
Grant that these ashes,
The pressure and cold sea water turned the remaining thousands
of gallons of bunker fuel viscous.
the mark on our foreheads of your suffering,
be to us a sign. Amen.
Blessing the dust
All those days
you felt like dust,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge