“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Lenten Blog Series
A Lenten Reflection from Rev. Nathan Huguley, Student Success Office
I recently listened to a discussion on NPR about supernovae. Supernovae occur at the death of some stars when they use up their fuel supply of lighter elements like hydrogen and helium in their process of nuclear fusion. The gravitational pull of their dense cores overcomes the energy from their fusion reactions. These stars collapse in on themselves forcing the atomic particles together so quickly that they then explode in a violent reaction and spread heavy elements like iron and carbon far and wide in their corner of the universe. Turns out, nearly all the heavy elements in the universe are believed to come from this kind of stellar event. The iron in my blood, the calcium in my bones, the iodine in my thyroid all come from these awesome events. This is the dust from which we come.
Listening to that radio program got me thinking ahead toward this Lenten season. It put a new frame on the liturgical phrase that was uttered on Wednesday when the minister imposed ashes on our foreheads: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I have always understood that sentence to mean something like “Remember that you are nothing, and to nothingness you shall return.” But to know that the dust that makes up my body was born in such a special and spectacular event is making me think differently about that sentence this year. Maybe we are all made from star stuff that has been around for billions of years and that we will get to return to that star stuff one day. Maybe God was thinking about you and me when the universe was taking shape in God’s hands. Should it surprise us, then, that the dust we are made from was created in such a spectacular way? Indeed, the psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.”
Human beings were not created out of nothingness and nothingness is not our end. We were created with glorious building blocks and breathed into by a loving Creator who has been preparing the groundwork for our arrival for billions of years. This star stuff is the dust from which you were created and the dust to which you will return. Keep that in mind as you travel the Lenten road this year.
During this Lenten season we fast and pray, we break old habits, we add new spiritual disciplines – not because we are nothing-ness trying to earn our way into something-ness. We do these things to prepare our hearts, minds, spirits, and even our bodies to glimpse the cosmic scale of Christ’s suffering and death on Good Friday and his resurrection at Easter.