San Salvador, El Salvador (via Wikimedia Commons)
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I have been reacquainted with dust. It happened as I rode in the back of a pick-up truck to a deeply remote village in El Salvador. Few go there. We made the trek to gather in solidarity with the poor of that community in their struggle for purpose and dignity. It is a ministry of accompaniment as we seek with them to change the structures that hold them captive.
Clouds of dust swirled around us and clung to our skin, moist from the heat of the day. Grit argued with my teeth when they came together, bracing for the jolt of the next deep rut. My clerical shirt, soaked in sweat, was browned by the dirt of the miles-long road that beckoned us to our destination. This is the dust of justice as longed for in the hearts of God’s people. They anxiously await our arrival for they inform us later that our very visit is a gift of encouragement.
It happened too when sitting in the chapel where, as he stood at the altar ready to transition into the Great Thanksgiving, Monsignor Oscar Romero was murdered by an assassin’s bullet. I was confronted with the dust of my mortality as I once again heard the account of that horrific day from the nun who oversees the shrine and still-active place of worship. Standing before the blood-soaked clerical shirt and vestments hung in his modest apartment, I am confronted with the dust of my call as a person of Christ. A great leveling occurs. All humanity is one in that moment. My shirt was brown with the transplanted particles of a road, his with the dried blood of a martyr. Blood and dirt are sacramentalized in the smudge on my forehead, your forehead, this day. It is all of the earth. This is the dust of sacrifice and the blood of the people resides in it.
I gaze in prayer upon some of the worst that humanity can perpetrate upon another. Archbishop Romero’s cause was the people: God ‘s justice and peace for every human being. The word that comes to me rising up from within is “offering,” meditating upon a life lived and sacrificed along with tens of thousands of others that God’s people might know the possibility of a new and transformed life. I will live with that word “offering” all this Lent.
Today, Ash Wednesday, calls us to be honest. Honest with God, honest with ourselves, honest within our communities, about whom we really are and who we are in Christ. We must begin with the honesty of our baptism where we are assured of our belovedness in God’s mercy. Everything must begin and end there. Yet even as we are dust, mortal and too often captured by our own brokenness and that of all humanity, we are redeemed dust. We are by grace continually being made new, transformed into the likeness of Christ. The stewardship of our life in almsgiving, prayer and fasting is to set us to look toward God as the ground of our being and to all God’s people as worthy of our love. Making it real and present is our work.
Remember always you are dust. Every particle of your dust, your being, calls out the God-question “O creature of the earth, why are you here?” May your life be spent, offered, honest, in response.