Lenten Reflection: Stardust
March 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
I’m beginning to realize that the experience of Lent will be different each year. The self examination that comes with Lent will pose new questions and, in relation to the circumstances in my life, lead me deeper into the ultimate mysteries of human existence. This year, I’m experiencing Lent during a major transition in my life. I’m moving, leaving a city I know and love and beginning a new life in a new place. While the choice has been mine, it has also felt like a path that was given to me to take. The “felt” part seems to be important. I don’t seem to be able to think my way through it, or Lent. I have to feel my way, and the feelings that have come with this move mirror the sometimes turbulent weather we get in the season of Lent—excitement, sadness, fear, anxiety, and sometimes even peace.
Last year was the first time I’d gone through the Ash Wednesday service and heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I had expected the ashes, but wasn’t prepared for the words. I was startled by the weight of them, and for a few moments didn’t seem to have any thoughts. I felt as though I was in one of those scenes in movies where someone slaps a person in the face to wake them from a trance. I know the words are intended to remind me of my mortality and provide a wake-up call to its implications about how to live my life. But, all I really felt was a strong sense of an undefined dread.
This year, because of my life circumstances, the feelings went deeper into what I think the dread of my mortality is really about. It now seems to me that the real dread that I feel has to do with me—this “I” called “Me”—disappearing. I haven’t faced my imminent death yet, but know some people who are, and the haunted look of disbelief that they have in their eyes tells me that this is the ultimate realization they are struggling with. To a lesser extent, I’m experiencing something like that in that I’m leaving a place and realizing that it will go on without me. So, I have a chance this Lent to begin to feel my way through my fear and bewilderment, to let the words Jesus spoke facing his own death and the way he lived his passion show me the way to live a real life, without the cultural distractions designed to mask that fear.
I sit and imagine New York going on without me? People actually going to work, having fun, making love, having dinner, going to the gym, taking cabs, seasons coming and going, history happening, and all of it oblivious to me not being here. Concerts will be given at Carnegie Hall, new blockbusters at the Met, new skyscrapers will go up, neighborhoods will change. Who knows, maybe even the Second Avenue Subway will be finished! All of this will happen, and I will disappear. I am dust and to dust I will return—and in New York, you’re dust pretty quickly…
And then, there are the people. I know, and have known so many wonderful and dear people here.
I have this theory. It came to me a few years back, when it occurred to me that there existed people, who were “my people” They were people that I immediately connected with. I seemed to meet them rather regularly, and always with the feeling that I’d known them for a long time and that we were always going to be good friends. They were “my people”. The world was full of them, I just hadn’t met them all yet. When I came to St Luke’s, it seemed as though everyone I met was one of “my people”. The truth that I came to understand was that everyone is one of my people. And in fact, that is what Jesus is talking about. Everyone is one of everyone else’s people, and we are more than that, as the one body of Christ.
So, who then, is this “Me” that is so afraid of disappearing and being forgotten?
In my clearer moments, I realize that the “Me” I call myself isn’t the same “I” that God created. It is something like a social vehicle I’ve put together to get along in this world. The way I’ve constructed it reminds me of the way I developed my signature… I took a “T” from someone’s handwriting I liked, a “W” from someone else. I took other letters and numbers from other people and designed a “Me” on paper. But, the signature isn’t me, it’s a graphic, something like a written mask or a set of clothes. Something temporary and changing. That awareness is what’s brought forth in being called dust on Ash Wednesday. But, what is dust?
I remember a line in the Joni Mitchell song, “Woodstock” — “We are stardust, we are golden.”
I am the image of God and also dust. I know I am part of a mystery that is too enormous and too beautiful for me to see clearly, but I’m afraid and sad. Scripture tells me that God loves me and all of God’s creation is good. That means everything, even the dust from which I and the stars are made, are particles of God’s love. That brings me peace. If I am—and all of us are—God’s dust, then we are all really one. The “me” I’ve construct is free to go now, because “I and “We” are the same thing. We are God’s love—a love that continually reshapes and reforms itself. And, we will never be apart.
It all comes down to love.
So, I’ll find rest and comfort in love. Jesus calls us to love each other as friends, and so we are and always will be. What are miles between friends? What is time, when we are all part of eternity?
– Tom Wharton