“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.” On Ash Wednesday, Christians throughout the world receive a smudge of ashes on their foreheads as those words are spoken.
The phrase, “You are dust,” used to make me cower like a puppy being scolded after an accident in the house. It felt like a curse. What was my response supposed to be as I hung my head? “I’m sorry”?
Rather than a curse, I wonder if the words are intended to be a blessing, and, if so, what wisdom do they convey?
We are Sacred Soil
In his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson writes, “The Latin words humus, soil/earth, and homo, human being, have a common derivation, from which we also get our word ‘humble.’ This is the Genesis origin of who we are: dust—dust that the Lord God used to make us a human being. If we cultivate a lively sense of our origin and nurture a sense of continuity with it, who knows, we may also acquire humility.”
Echoing Peterson’s wisdom in his article, “Coming from the earth: humus, humanity, humility,” Douglas Kindschi suggests that if God created us from dust, then we’re made out of the same raw material from which the Creator formed the earth. And with the soul with which we’ve been blessed, we’re planted on earth to produce luscious fruits of abundant love.
A Reminder of Who We Are
Maybe the words, “You are dust,” are a reminder of our goodness. Like the ground upon which we walk, God formed humans out of soil. And soil is good. Blessed. Sacred.
Soil is also humble. It lets the seed embedded on its surface sink deep into its ground. It waits for God to shower sunshine and rain upon it. It cracks open its crevices to let the earth’s beauty shine forth.
Soil Sustains Us
Soil plays a vital role in the Earth’s ecosystem. It provides a foothold for plants so their roots can dig deep into the ground and obtain the nutrients to produce abundant fruits, flowers, and vegetables.
Mud and sand filter rainwater and regulate its discharge, preventing flooding. They buffer against pollutants, protecting groundwater quality.
Soil also provides humans with essential construction and manufacturing materials. We build our houses with bricks made from clay. We drink coffee from a mug formed out of mud and sand.
Without the gift of soil, human life would be unsustainable.
The Moment You Were Formed
Imagine what may have occurred the moment God decided the world needed you. The Creator reached down, scooped up a handful of earth, blew divine stardust into it, and poof, you came to life!
Like Frosty the Snowman, the magic and mystery of “you” appeared, formed by the hands of the Divine, created to produce the fruits of abundant love. All from your one blessed life.
A Meditation Moment
Take a moment to sit in silence. Place your feet flat on the floor or ground.
Wiggle your toes. Feel the connection between you and the earth.
What do you notice? Is there a tingling in your feet? Do you feel the strength and stability of the earth?
What emotions arise in you as you recall you are made out of the same material as the soil beneath you?
Allow your feet to sink deeper into the floor or ground. Imagine your feet have roots like trees that go into the earth seeking water and nutrients needed to grow.
What nutrients or virtues do you need from God in this moment? Give them a name. Patience? Peace? Strength? Ask God to provide you with whatever you need from the good soil upon which your feet are planted.
Draw the energy of the soil up through your feet and legs, into your body. Notice how you share in the massiveness, the stillness, and majesty of the earth’s soil. You are connected to God and to all creation through the ground upon which you walk.
Take long, deep breaths. With each breath, remember you are formed out of dust with the Creator’s hands. You are sacred soil.
A Lenten Practice
By connecting with the sacredness of soil, we can experience earth’s strength and stability. We can integrate its raw energies to encounter each moment with mindfulness, balance, and clarity. We can learn from nature’s wisdom.
In doing so, we remember who we are: God’s sacred soil, formed from the earth. Blessed to cultivate fruits of abundant love.
PS….Here is an 8 minute Guided Meditation you can listen to and experience who you are: Sacred Soil grounded in God.
—brian j plachta