The best thing about being a pastor is the conversations! Sometimes they happen in the grocery store when I am wearing my clerical collar. Sometimes they happen in the hospital next to the bed of person who struggles. Sometimes they happen online.
And as today is Ash Wednesday, conversations about dust have come to occur. In Christian circles, this is the day we remember our mortality.
Most folks today are not good at remembering our mortality. We spend a lot of effort staying young, and healthy, and even distancing ourselves from experiences of death. So, its no surprise that the Churches of the world are not bursting with folks on Ash Wednesday, lining up to “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.
But I recommend it. Even if you are not 100% convinced in the narrative of Jesus. (I’ll come back to that.) Because we do ourselves no favors to imagine that our existence, our experience, is so unique and special that the universe should take notice of our achievements. Don’t misunderstand me. I believe the God of Love does take notice of our uniqueness, and rejoices in each of us. I just wonder if you and I spend a little too much time impressed with our own selves- measuring ourselves up against the next person (I am skinnier than she is, I am smarter than him, I have been more successful than they are).
Remembering that we are dust at least for one day helps me to keep that overgrown ego in check. The thoughts that run through my mind might be these – There was a time before I existed and there will be a time when I no longer exist. If life is short, where should I put my energy, my focus, my imagination? On my family? On those who suffer? Martin Luther said, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today”. And so I ask – Where shall I plant my tree? What fruit will it bear?
And so I come back to conversations. In an online conversation with a treasured friend from nearly 20 years ago, she led me to this quote – “The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.“A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009 (16:50-17:23)”
And, I am touched. No, I don’t plan to forget Jesus and His sacrifice for me, but I am glad to connect to the mortality that surrounds us. The stars themselves have a lifecycle, and their existence is directly connected to mine. And I believe God made the universe, and me too.
Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return.
Make your life better friends, in this small step – we are not here forever, but we are here now. Amen. – Pastor Patricia+