A Perspective on Dust

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    March 12, 2021

Dust. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since Ash Wednesday. Quite honestly, I’ve never been fond of hearing, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” as the cross formed of ashes is traced on my forehead. I understand those words are a reference to the story of God’s admonishing Adam as he departs the garden (Genesis 3:19). I understand those words are a poignant reminder of our impermanence and our mortality.

But somehow, hearing them always feels a bit…dismissive. As in, you’re only dust. Relegated to the same category as the dust we try to make disappear every time we clean our homes. Or the dust of unwelcome in Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples (Matthew 10:14), where he suggests that they shake the dust from their feet when their message is resisted. Yes, that kind of dust, to be trampled underfoot and forgotten.

Ahna Ziegler, Unsplash

I prefer to think of the dust of our lives in the way Dan Schutte describes it in the song, “Ashes to Ashes”:

“We have seen in the heavens and held in our arms/ what the hand of our Maker can fashion out of dust.”

Ah, and is there any limit to what the hand of our Maker can create? Might we expand our imagination to include the possibility that we, along with all of creation, have been fashioned out of a different kind of dust, the dust of stars? That we are made, as Carl Sagan observes, “of star stuff.” That the atoms of oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen in our bodies are a direct link to the heavenly bodies created over 4.5 billion years ago. That through this dust, we are forever connected to the universe as it continues to evolve and renew itself in us. That when we gaze in silent wonder at a midnight sky bright with burning orbs, we recognize the shape of something familiar in that cosmic dust and know ourselves related in a collective, holy ancestry.

Yes, that kind of dust! While musing about the origins of stardust, I was moved by a passage that Jan Woodward shared in Texting through Cancer: Ordinary Moments of Community, Love, and Healing. The author wrote of a breast cancer survivor who began chemotherapy and whose hair soon began to fall out as a consequence of the potent drugs used to battle her illness. Early on, she made the decision to totally shave her head rather than wait to become bald little by little. And then, she wondered, what ought she do with the hair clippings from that shaving? Discard them? Save them as a remembrance of a life left behind?

She arrived at a response that was both thoughtful and tender. Going outside in her yard, she scattered the clippings of her shorn hair on the ground. And then, a bit later, a delightful discovery: she witnessed her feathered neighbors, the robins and chickadees and wrens, gathering bits of her hair to weave into nests that would protect and nurture their young for a new cycle of life.

Mateusz Stepien, Unsplash

A whole different image of dust returning to dust. Human dust, winged dust, star dust. May we move through this day attentive to and on the lookout for the holy dust that is the stuff of our lives.

You may want to try this practice by having before you a photo of the night sky or by sitting outside in the evening under the stars.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Gaze at the image of the stardust from which you came.
What does this dust feel like? Look like?
Share your insights with the Holy One and give thanks that you are so fearfully, wonderfully made.

Featured image:  Vaibhaw Kumar, Unsplash

Thank you for remembering in prayer last weekend’s virtual retreat experience with the wonderful women of Women Helping Women and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Singles, Forest Hills, NY.

Please hold in your prayer these upcoming offerings:

March 13: Lenten retreat day for St. Bonaventure – St. Benedict the Moor parish, Jamaica, NY

March 26-28:  Directed Retreat Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA

Coming soon: A guest post for Holy Week for A Nun’s Life, https://anunslife.org. A Nun’s Life is about just that–LIFE–and how to live it fully in light of the Gospel. 

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One thought on “A Perspective on Dust”

  1. Sr Chris- I’m glad you reminded me of stardust and not just dust. I love looking at the sky and all of it’s beautiful stars. God made us and we are wonderfully made.

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