Friday, March 11, 2011

glimmers of ashes and dust

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Our priest's voice echoed around the hushed nave as we quietly filed forward and knelt before the altar. With eyes downcast, we each awaited that gritty reminder that we are here today, gone tomorrow. That life is, as the writer of Ecclesiastes intoned in a foreshadowing of this liturgy, meaningless.
Somber silence, however, did not get the last word this time. In response to the words of Jesus, "Let the little ones come to me," entire families accepted the invitation to participate in this sacramental moment. Toddlers slid sneakily back and forth along the smooth wooden pews; infants cooed and cried and shook noisy toys. When the ushers brought the offerings forward, one carried his small daughter; the other was trailed by his toddler, clinging to the back hem of his coat. At the altar, a big sister watched with wide eyes as her little brother received his first ashes. Another little one, accustomed to the gift of bread and wine, held our hands out anxiously to the priest. When he reached to mark her forehead, she pulled back in surprise - he gently blessed her, and she watched with curious fascination as he moved on to bless her parents.
It is a sobering, and even grievous thing, to remember that I come from - and return to - dust. But I must also say that these years in between, these moments of "dust-life" - are magnificent ones. God breathed life into this dust that is me, that is you. God gifted each of us - boisterous little ones included - with God's own image. God took this form - the form of dust - to love us. What more could we possibly ask?! In the light of God, even the dust shimmers!