Breathing Life into the Dust
By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin of San Anselmo, CA, USA
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. —Luke 4:1–2 NRSV
Preparing for our Ash Wednesday worship, I create a simple worship center using elements that evoke wilderness imagery. Rocks clank as I place them in a tall vase. I arrange sticks, moss, and sand in other vessels. I then place a small bowl of ashes on the table and realize an obvious connection I almost overlooked: The ashes, too, are an element of earth.
Everything I lay on the table has come from the earth, including my own hands that arrange and rearrange the settings…including the table itself. I am reminded of a quote by Annie Dillard, “All day long I feel created. I can see the blown dust on the skin on the back of my hand, the tiny trapezoids of chipped clay, moistened and breathed alive” (Holy the Firm, Harper Perennial, revised edition, 1998, p. 25).
In Genesis 2, God breathes life into the dirt to give it form. What does it mean to consider our identity as holy dirt creatures, created mysteriously in the image of the Creator?
The poetic and haunting phrase sings through my heart: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It reveals what we so often resist. We are made of matter and will one day be unmade. We are part of creation unfolding…one small part in an intricately connected universe. What we are made of we also depend on, literally, for each blessed breath. Incarnation takes seriously these physical realities and dares to name them sacred.
Lately, I’ve felt a longing for awakened senses. I spend so much of my life in sterile conditions: work to car to home, cell phone screen to computer screen to television screen. The relational strain I feel this Lenten season is as member of the community of creation. The quickest path to renewal may be out the front door into a world I did not make and cannot control in all its mystery, complexity, and stunning intricacy. “You ARE this,” the God-Voice beckons within.
Ash Wednesday is a day for humility. It is a day for confessing the ways we have forgotten we are fellow creatures, always in process of being created with all other life. It is a day for repenting the ways we try to live separate from the source of our physical and spiritual life.
We hold out our hands and pray, “Breathe life into this dirt, O God. Become alive in the substance of me.”
We mark ourselves with ashes to remember who we are. We await the breath of life that continues to make us new.
God, may my deep hope align with your deep vision. Release in me anything that keeps me from freely following your Spirit. Amen.
Invitation to Spiritual Practice
Breathe deeply as you enter a time of silence. Become gently attentive to what may be restricting you from faithfully responding to the divine invitation in your life. Are there priorities, attachments, tasks, or motivations competing for your response? What does freedom for God look or feel like in you this day?
Today’s Prayer for Peace
Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.