Yesterday many Christians around the world attended an Ash Wednesday service to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday, though not formally practiced in the books of the Bible, is steeped in a rich tradition of meaning–both biblically and scientifically–and carries great significance for us today.
“You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
This verse always startled me because it forces us to come to terms with our humanity; not only with our mortality, but with our humanness as well. We are ALL dust. And in fact, we are all star dust! When God caused the Big Bang (in my opinion), a little dot of matter (scientists say it was no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence) exploded into a beautifully complex and diverse universe. All of the original “dust” of the universe is the result of stars which have “died;” they have come to the end of their cycles and their matter is scattered. This matter helps create something new. This star dust was then knit together by gravity (and Divine intervention) to form Earth. And this star dust makes up you and I as well.
So, what can we learn from this brief physics lesson? (And no, I claim no knowledge of physics, and I’m sure that my physicist partner will correct me on many details.)
Nonetheless, we see that there is great power and potential in the most minute places. It takes the violent “death” of a star to create new life. Dust comes from the ancient stars which continue to make new life today. We are all dust, yes, but we are star dust. We are made up of an intergalactic substance which has persisted through time and space; a substance which will always be part of our identity even if we no longer recognize the source. And it’s a substance which undeniably makes up ALL people. No one is less of a star than anyone else.
So when we contemplate the reality that we are dust, I hope we will remember that our substance is something mysterious, full of potential, and knit together from the far reaches of the universe.
Though the United Methodist Church may have experienced a painful explosion last week in St. Louis, new life is being formed. Churches which previously had a don’t ask don’t tell understanding, are making statements of affirmation and support. Conservatives are emailing me to tell me that they are deeply sorry, and that their opinions about LGBTQ+ people have changed. Moderates are stepping out from their places of privileged and are speaking up for God’s inclusive love and justice. Our exploded star dust is settling, and God is using us to make something new; something which is of the same substance as the old, but is different.
May our Lent be a beautiful exploration of our humanity and our interonnectedness; may this pain birth something beautiful; may our Churches, no matter how small, explode with the radiance of God’s multi-colored love for all people–especially LGBTQ+ people.