Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remember That You Are Dust? Matisyahu and Lent...

 "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  

These ancient words, recited when the minister signs the cross on a believer's forehead on Ash Wednesday, are humble reminders of our mortality.  We are the created not the Creator.  We are the image bearer, not the image giver.  We are dust.  And to dust we shall return?

I struggle with these words.  When they are whispered to me at the front of the sanctuary every Ash  Wednesday, I baulk for a moment.  Really?  To dust we shall return? 

What about resurrection of the body?

What about new creation? 

Yes, I was made from dust, and my life even "like" dust.  I can rest in that.  But the notion that I will return to dust is personally haunting, let alone theologically puzzling.  

Our staff wrestled with potentially alternative statements upon the imposition of ashes:

Repent and believe the good news? 


Remember that you once were dust?

You are created not creator?

But most settled on the traditional liturgical statement.

I pondered the conversation as I drove home when my playlist jumped to "On Nature," one of my favorite songs by Jewish reggae artist, Matisyahu. Also, perfect timing as I develop the 2012 rendition of "Modern Psalms for the Lenten Journey:"

We are men of nature

We are made from the earth

At the end of my eighty, I'll return to the dirt

Just sand, just rock, dry land, fast and silent

Only bein' only breathin'

We're just children of believers. [1]


Sounds a lot like Psalm 90:10:


"The days of our life are seventy years,

   or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;

even then their span is only toil and trouble;

   they are soon gone, and we fly away" (NRSV).


It is true, we are dust.  While it may remain an ancient mystery, and not fit within a therapeutic theology, we all need the reminder that "to dust we shall return."  The words remind us of those spoken to the first humans (Genesis 3:19) and the present reality of a world caught in already-and-not-yet dreams for new creation.  

Still more, if God can create dust, surely God can and will resurrect all of us from it. 

Until then, life is lived within the dustiness.  


I think Matisyahu gets it here, too:

We came to taste the rain

We're just widows and orphans

Not afraid to feel the pain

Or to leave behind our notions

Bathe in showers, taste the tension,

Hear the howl, climb the mountain,

Kiss the cold and heal the frozen

Read the dreams in this here dungeon.


Yep, I can taste the tension.  It tastes like ash. It's bitter. I don't really like it. But it is the reality of "this here dungeon" called Lent that moves us towards Holy Week...and yes, also towards Resurrection Sunday.

But first, "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."




[1] The complete lyrics can be found here 

[2] Visit for previous years' playlists, "Modern Psalms for the Lenten Journey.  Also, check out reflections on Mumford & Sons as Lenten lyrics: