Six weeks ago today, I was walking around with an ash cross on my forehead. 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return' I had been told, and I told others. 'Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ.' (I managed to mangle the words at one point and tell someone to turn away from Christ. Whoops! Thankfully I got a wry grin in response and not a sharp frown.)
I know that Lent isn't actually over until the great triumphant shout of Easter Sunday joy. Today, though, just before the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday take us on their strange pilgrimage from the bittersweet table-fellowship tinged with betrayal, the unexpected intimacy of Jesus' foot-washing and the tenderness of the 'mandatum novum' (new commandment) from which Maundy Thursday gets its name, to the jeers and spit and blood and desolation and sheer agony of Good Friday, I found myself thinking about the dust of Ash Wednesday, and what is made out of it. Obviously, not literally; the ash crosses were wiped away by that evening. But that very sober reality that are are dust, and to dust we shall return; what is made out of that?
That might sound off-beam, but it isn't. Genesis 2 narrates how God creates Adam out of the dust of the earth, and into this dust breathes his own breath of life so that Adam becomes a living being. The dust takes on a life of its own, and starts to create things of its own, things that also live and grow and thrive in the beauty of God's garden. All this from dust. Carl Sagan, the agnostic astronomer, described the earth as 'a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.' Remember that you are dust. (Here is a truly wonderful poem; do listen.) For people of faith, dust isn't the end; it's just the beginning.
My surprise Lent present from God, via some friends, was the discovery of Beautiful Things , a music album by the American Christian band Gungor, which I wouldn't have come across without my Lenten discipline of only listening to sacred music in all its varied forms. 'You make beautiful things out of the dust; you make beautiful things out us' became my Lenten anthem. I thought about all this as I walked my dog, Ben, at the local nature reserve. At the start of Lent it was still comically boggy underfoot, and bare branches reached up to the cloudy sky. When the first buds started to appear, I didn't know what they'd become, and when the first green shoots emerged from the earth I had no idea that soon they'd grow into early bluebells and violas. The nature reserve, I learned, is a disused gravel pit. At some point it'd have been bare and ugly, yet here it is, bursting into springtime life. As soon as I knew it had been a gravel pit, it explained why it is so dramatically hilly; each mound was a pile of earth, the leftovers after all the useful stuff had been taken. 'You make beautiful things out of the dust.'
Who knows what beautiful things might be made out of the dust of our lives?