I’ve got dust on my mind. It started with a sneaking suspicion that I’m not keeping my house to the standards I was raised with. Perhaps it’s the brightening sun of Spring that reminds me of how good wood smells when polished with lemon oil and bees wax. Or perhaps it’s the words of scripture shared in days of grief as colleagues are gathered home and read on the threshold of Lent. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust….. of dust you were made, and to dust you will return……Dust is important stuff, there are 96 references in the New Revised Standard Version. And we spend hours trying to keep it under control. We want the dust to settle. We want to sweep it up and out. But in scripture it seems to be something that God can work with.
In Genesis, it is our first and last elemental form on earth:…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
It is related to human work, providing the stuff out of which crops are grown. It is used as metaphor for our species' fertility:…and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Genesis 28:14
And is akin to our humble relationship to the God whose purpose is to give life, not death:
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead. Isaiah 26:19
Though like Job we may fear we will be ground to oblivion, Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? Job 10:9 God intends to rework the form of each life as though it were pottery.
Recently Rev. Anne Marie Hunter, founder of Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership against Domestic Violence, has spent time with New England United Methodist clergy helping us understand, among other things, the vital role of scripture in shaping how domestic violence victims make decisions to stay or go. (By the way, Safe Haven’s website includes rural resources that will be valuable for our small churches.)
Anne Marie’s words were fresh in my mind as I headed to the Conference Office for a week of work, intersecting with words from an On Being podcast as I drove.. Interviewing poet Marilyn Nelson, host Krista Tippet pointed out a Quantum Theology quote of Nelson’s poem, “Dusting?” The blogger was a professor dusting her office after a sabbatical.
“Nelson’s poem and my dusty office reminds me that the unpolished and ordinary is cloaked in the extraordinary. Even as I settle back into my everyday life, in that dust, tiny tokens of the universe have settled into my office. Should I be able to sort through the motes, I expect I would find fragments brushed from the cliffs in Ireland blown into the air by storms in the Pacific, and burnt off comets that blundered into Earth’s atmosphere. Crumbs of the infinite lie scattered across my desk. I’m suddenly hesitant to pick up my dust rag and wipe it all away.”
Nelson responded, “….I read someplace that dust is one of the cleanest things on the planet, and we — yeah. You can wash in dust and that we can’t have rain without dust. Dust seeds clouds so that rain happens. We wouldn’t have rain without dust, which I think is beautiful. And that dust is full of life, that the things listed in my poem are things that are in dust, that dust is alive. Sharon Olds, a really terrific poet, told me once that she had named the dust bunnies in her house.”
Here is Marilyn Nelson's poem in its entirety:
Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
for the infinite,
For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
from equator to pole.
My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.
These words from so many sources remind me that we are full of Spirit potential, brought into material form by the hand of the Craft master. And so we dare to pray with hope and resolve for those people and places pressed down, practically, but not quite, to the point of non-being by violence in homes, places of work, rest, and worship. We pray for our neighbors who are at risk from those they have loved. We pray for those whose neighbors attempt to blog out the evidence of their ancestry in cemeteries and synagogues. We pray for those told to return to homes that no longer exist. We pray for those who, even in the midst of their own trauma, become conduits of grace that help people rise from the dust. AMEN