Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Remember that you are dust

It blows down dry streets in eddies, dead. It gathers in corners. It forms into rich earth, and out of it sprout tiny seeds. It compacts into warm and rich clay, which can be cut and slammed and shaped by hands and wheel into pots, and bowls and little figures of stout women and tiny men. It blows in the stellar winds in furthest space. It is dust.

We are dust.

Do we read it as promise or as curse? As a cause for humility, or a reassurance? It is a complex image. We are dust, blown around for a moment on one corner of the planet Earth that we call home, and the next become ash and mud. Stand for a moment on any hill, and look down on a road, a city, to see how tiny each figure is in comparison to the great world we live upon. We are specks on the face of a mighty globe. It puts us firmly in our places: all the books published, the families reared, the academic recognition, the wealth earned, the tests passed, the career ladder climbed, all these are as nothing in comparison to the mighty Earth, still less in the face of the universe. Look at the dust eddying down the street. That is the totality of your achievements.

On the other hand, being dust limits our failures. The family row, the declining attendance at our churches, the catch dropped, the dead-end job, the constant grind to make both ends meet, well, that too is dust, insignificant, and unimportant. All of us are so tiny in the sight of the universe that it hardly matters. It is not that it will all be the same in a hundred years. It is all the same now. I struggle to imagine a universe so huge that the pinprick of light I see from my dark hillside, unpolluted by street-lights, is, in fact, an entire galaxy. Stand outside on a clear night and see the glittering dust in the sky and know that what you see as a speck of light is in fact not just a star but a galaxy of stars with their own planets. Let your miseries fall behind you and rejoice in being part of a dance of life so incredibly huge you cannot know all of it, indeed you cannot even imagine it all.

It is hard to believe that we, tiny little specks of dust, set on the face of a planet which is itself a speck in an immense universe, can be of huge value to God. That he can bend near us, and listen to our worries, and our anguish and our delight. Yet that is what we are taught. I pour out my joy for a new lamb born safely to one of my ewes, or my pleas understanding of the next steps that my path of life should follow to God, and this God is the same God who dances on the seas of some planet in that same bright speck of a galaxy. The sheer immensity of it all is what brings me my most agonising moments of doubt.

But then, I am dust. Dust is so limited. Our faith has always known that. As a liberal, I am frequently berated for trying to create a god who fits my limitations. Actually I don’t think I do. When I stand outside on a clear night, and compare myself to a speck in the mud on my wellies, I am acutely aware of the immensity of God. If the sheer scale of it all brings me doubt, it also brings me reassurance. No wonder there is so much I cannot get my mind around. No wonder the pain of the universe puzzles me. I cannot even understand how time and space can be the same thing; at least I cannot understand that intuitively. I know that there must be truths even more profound beyond my reach.

How then to make sense of it all? How to accept my intellectual limitations, and grasp both my lack of stature as dust, and also my belonging to God? I turn to that same One who dances on some distant planet as even now it comes into being, in the curved space/time continuum. Ah, that, then, is the worth God gives to dust: he becomes it. Dust may be limited but it can embody every value of God. My task is simple: to begin on the path of embodying those same values. Did I say simple?

Posted by Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 6:00am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

That's beautiful, thank you for posting it.

Dust. I was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti a couple of months after the earthquake. The dust was unforgettable. It was everywhere, covered everything. If you swept, there was more the next day. It was everywhere and it was a constant reminder of the death and destruction (quite viewable) that had happened there and the grieving that was in progress.

Just before leaving, a priest reminded me that it was from dust that God created humankind, and God breathed life into it, into us. Sure enough, that dust also contained signs of the Resurrection, supported by the faith, hope, and love of the people.

We are truly dust, I've Witnessed this reality on a tragically vast scale. But we are God's own dust.

Thank Rosemary, your piece jogged my memory...

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 7:11am GMT

Wasn't Rowan's post 9/11 book called "Writing in the Dust"?

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 7:37am GMT

As I watch the snow falling on an unnaturally silent street, it's hard to get my head round the vastness of the planet let alone the universe, and yet God is intimately involved in every snowflake that falls.

Posted by: Barbara Quigley on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 9:03am GMT

Having just received the Ashes (from last year's incinerated Palm Crosses), during which we were reminded that "We are but dust, and unto dust we shall return", I was reminded of our common human frailty in the sight of our Creator.

Rosemary's reflection well substantiates this need to understand the reality of our earth-based physicality. The humus of our humility is a very good place to start from - in order to recognise our need of spiritual regeneration on a daily basis - refraining from placing too much reliance on our earthly affections, knowing that they will, one day, be assumed into something more glorious.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 9:37am GMT

Anybody? Anybody? No? Dust.

Posted by: Marjorie Dawes on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 11:32am GMT


We are dust but we are star dust- a tiny but precious part of God's wonderfully intricate Universe lnked to all the other universes. It's mind boggling but wonderful

Laus Deo

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 4:16pm GMT

Very moving, very thought provoking, thanks for this.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 4:35pm GMT

Great post! Thank you.

Posted by: Josh L. on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 9:43pm GMT

Of course, in my usual cussed way I resist this. It is too abject. If God is our Father, as we profess, then He has a duty of care to us, just as, as parents, we have a duty of care to our children. In orthodox Christianity (an orthodoxy very much shared by Thinking Anglicans) there is far too much emphasis on sin.

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 9:45pm GMT

Wonderful. A blessed Lent to all at TA.

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 9:52pm GMT

Gosh, beautiful, thanks.

Posted by: Richard Wilson on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 11:03pm GMT

Didn't mention sin once John...

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 at 11:43pm GMT

OK, Rosemary, I stand corrected. The rest I stand by. The basic point is, I think the whole emphasis is skewed. Ash Wednesday, etc. I do it too (couldn't yesterday because of work commitments). Like Aeschylus, I think we need (only among many other things) the concept of a developing God.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 14 February 2013 at 8:26am GMT

Out of interest John, are you willing to say why you think we need "the concept of a developing God"?

Thank you for the reflection, Rosemary.

in friendship, Blair

Posted by: Blair on Thursday, 14 February 2013 at 7:57pm GMT

Thank you Rosemary. Inspired.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 14 February 2013 at 9:19pm GMT

'are you willing to say why you think we need "the concept of a developing God"?' (Blair 14th Feb).

Equally though it seems impolite or impossible to raise it here, the same question is germane of 'the concept of God' itself.

I imagine that the word 'God' is employed, and deployed here in many differing ways, including 'Process', 'God language' and nontheistic ways.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 15 February 2013 at 1:00am GMT
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