I hate dusting. The process seems so useless because dust immediately returns. Why is there so much dust? What’s in that stuff anyway?
I did some research and got disturbing answers, including enlarged photos of dust mites that can’t be unseen. I also got a surprise. Turns out that much of that dust in my house is … me.
Our bodies shed skin cells as new ones take their place. Each of us is like the Pig-Pen character in “Peanuts,” leaving dustiness wherever we go. We tend to think that someday we’ll turn into a pile of dust, but the process is already in motion.
There’s a lot of us in the dust.
Some people are celebrating Ash Wednesday today, a necessary reminder that this phase of life is short and precious and must be fully appreciated. Ashes symbolize how our bodies will return fully to their elemental state someday.
But the turn-to-dust process has already begun, and so has the rebirthing part. We’re already dust, and we’re already reborn. The process is hard-wired into everyone and everything.
It’s how it all works.
A poetic story in Scripture reminds that we’re formed from the dust of earth and thus bound intimately to all creation. Science takes it one step further, detailing how in our elemental form we’re made of the same stuff as everything in the universe.
Yes, we’re both earth dust and star dust. And everything follows a path of endless transformation, which is a very cool thing even if we sometimes wish it were otherwise.
Earth dust and star dust
Death is a necessary ingredient in the process. Without it, nothing new could appear. New life is created out of the space created when something else is let go.
All things are continuously made new, including us.
Faith itself is about daily transformation, shedding old ways and replacing them with new. As the saying goes, old wineskins must be discarded. If we cling to the old, we’ll watch it turn to dust in our hands.
As Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it, “Almost always when I experience God, it comes in the form of some kind of death and resurrection. … It’s about spiritual physics. Something has to die for something new to live.”
When we recognize the spiritual physics at work — the intimacy between death and rebirth — we worry a little less about future burial and focus more on nurturing the life being reborn within us and around us.
All things new
Spirituality is about embracing the daily transformation. “Dying to self” involves gradually letting go of selfishness, fear, prejudice, judgment, insecurity, ego – anything that prevents us from loving more deeply and inclusively.
Our spiritual exfoliation creates room for compassion and empathy and joy and hope and healing. We become more invested in transforming ourselves and our world.
This process also works on our collective level. We see it unfolding in our society right now.
A culture that has for so long reserved power and privilege for a certain caste — white, wealthy, male, straight, Christian — is being shed, bit by bit, to create space for something new. Some church people are trying to provide life support, but it’s futile. To borrow an expression from Martin Luther King, Jr., such religion is dry as dust and ready for burial.
Leave the dead to bury the dead. God is working among the living. Put our focus there. Pay attention to the new life poking up from the ashes. Nurture it, celebrate it and grow it.
And feel free to skip the dusting chore if you wish. Consider it a sign of respect. After all, that dust gathered on our shelves and tabletops is you and me.
Well, OK, maybe dust once in a while. Those enlarged photos of dust mites are really disgusting.