Dust is a common theme throughout the Bible. Dust is a common theme in my household! Just last week I wrote ‘Dust me’ in the thin covering on my daughter’s TV stand. It is still there. Although I would love her to actually do the chore, it does still make us smile. Fun dust.
From dust we were made, in the creation story, and to dust we shall return. Our physical form returned to the earth from which we came. Be that through burial, cremation and laying to rest of ashes or spread far and wide in a firework as a beloved of mine will be soon. Treasured dust.
But that’s not the only mention of dust. Jesus tells us ‘If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.’ (Matthew 10:14). Not just leave that place but do not even take a modicum of dust from it with you to the next. No cross contamination. How we act, how we welcome, how we listen demonstrates who we are, what we are made of, and if we are good dust or bad. Good to nourish the world around us with, or if we are more of a pollutant that should be contained where we are. Dangerous dust.
If we are of God, we should be the juiciest, moistest, most worm infested and nutritious soil there is – and that is a sentence I never imagined writing before in my life! Our dust should be sticking to everyone’s shoes, they should be digging us up and throwing us liberally over their gardens. We should be desired dust, not shaken off like coarse sand which stays in your socks for weeks after a visit to the beach. We should be delighted in and treasured, even if we might be a little bit stinky, because of the good we will do. Fertilising dust.
We are told of numerous occasions in the Bible when those in deep distress covered their heads with dust. Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, Joshua, the daughters of Zion at the fall of Jerusalem. Ahab sat in sackcloth and ashes in repentance for his misdeeds, as did David. In these circumstances ashes represented humility, these well known characters – many of them leaders – lowering themselves before God in the acknowledgment that they were only dust themselves. In recognition they needed him. Calling him into their situation and asking for help. In the western world where we consider ourselves modern and above such things, our times of deep distress are often hidden behind closed doors and handled with a box of tissues. I wonder how much healthier we would be as a society if we could give ourselves permission to wail from the depth of our souls in lament at how fragile we recognise ourselves to be, and just throw ourselves onto God’s saving grace as the creations of dust that we know ourselves to be? Lowly dust.
Have you ever thrown the phrase ‘Eat my Dust’, Bart Simpson style, at a rival as you win a race. Not particularly gracious maybe, but actually biblical. Once Satan has successfully tempted Adam and Eve into taking knowledge which was not theirs to have, God condemns him to crawl on his belly in the dust for eternity. This is what allowed the life-giving serpent imagery of the feminine divine to be subverted into the satanic snake we more commonly see today. But it also gave rise to more bible references about pushing our enemies into the dirt, such as in Lamentations. Eating it, in fact. You can’t get more lowly than eating the dirt from which you were made. Shaming Dust.
It almost feels like we have come full circle, from dust being the wholesome material of creation, to dust being the ultimate material of subjugation. We have become aware of the power of dust from being told to brush it off our feet, to using its power through our mourning and repentance rituals, to demonstrating our power over others by shoving their faces in the dirt and calling that victory in God’s name. Is it ever so?
Victory in God’s name is wiping the dirt off the faces of crying children and tending to their wounds. Victory in God’s name is laundering so many clothes to keep them going for so long because you have a household to run. Victory in God’s name is leaving dust on the shelves because you’re exhausted from opening your home to so many people in one day, ministering to each and every one, but doing so gladly because that is who God called you to be.
I am writing this as I reflect on my adored Nana’s funeral yesterday. Her life was a victory in God’s name. Not because of what she did, but because of who she was. The best dust ever in existence was used to make my Nana, and now it is back to dust once more.
Peace be with you.