Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dust: A Lenten Meditation

Entry for Ash Wednesday week, 13-17 Feb 2013

Remember you are mortal;
From dust you came
And to dust you will return. 
        –Ash Wednesday Liturgy

“I am significant!” screamed the dust speck.
        -Calvin & Hobbes comic strip

1. Ash Wednesday

What’s dust?  Dry powder of earth,
Smallest bits of matter we see
Unaided, lowest common denominator
Of our existence, atoms of our experience.

For years I approached Ash Wednesday
With fascinated dread, took it as a tonic:
A moment of memento mori for my soul’s good;
Ash and the smoke of burnt out fires.

But think on this: everything’s dust,
Packed together to look substantial,
All of it an illusion of solidity:
The feathery down from flown birds.

2. A Brief Catalogue of Dust

Domestic dust:
Mostly mites and human skin,
Bread crumbs and beard bits.

Atmospheric dust:
Borne by the wind, turning sunsets red,
Or the great gray peat-dust storms
Of my childhood, blowing off the Delta.

Road dust:
It clings to us as we arrive;
Perhaps on leaving, we shake it from our feet,
Shedding the taint of an unfriendly place.

Mortal dust:
The ashes of my cat and my father, resting
In the little shrine in my study in Ohio,
And the ashes of my mother, dead since June,
Scattered in the Labyrinth at Murray Creek.

The gift of dying stars to us,
Fusing the atoms of which we’re made,
Children of ancient supernovae.

Holy dust:
Caught, suspended, in a shaft of sunlight,
In a childhood memory of church in Lodi,
Hanging like a song in Brownian motion.

Visionary dust:
My old, dead friend Margaret’s
Vision of herself as insubstantial dust,
Before God’s pervading permanence.

3. Song of the Dust

On Ash Wednesday this year I found
Not dread but joy in not just facing,
But embracing my dust-ness, my ash-self.

Dust to dust, that is us:
We do this together, ash to ash.
Not stupid dust, dying alone,
But smart dust, a connected cloud.

Just or unjust, dust is our mortality,
And also our morality: Always we die,
But always reborn in one another.
Joyous mortal dust, for sing we must;
For us, the song of the dust is eternal.

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