our bodies are only dust, the prayers and liturgies of this day remind us. But this year, as I prepare to go up to visit my dying grandfather, I’m struck by how precious dust is to us. Since he’s gotten sick, I’ve noticed his hands a lot more–they’re marked by bruises from IVs and age spots, but they’re still big, strong hands. Hands that used to fix cars, hands that taught me to drive stick shift, hands that helped my own father learn to walk, and have held my grandmother’s hands for decades. precious, precious dust, those hands are.
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” As we smear ashes on breathing peoples’ foreheads today, we look them in the eye and tell them that they are just dust, and there’s no way out of this life but becoming dust again.
This year, I see the woman (my best friend) pregnant with her first baby, the young child with hopeful eyes (who I baptized), the old man whose skin is so clear it’s almost turned blue.
You will die. We will all die.
The only thing holding us here on this earth, in these pinked-up bodies, is God’s Breath of Life. As I travel to see and hold again the precious dust of my grandpa’s hands, and to anoint the precious dust of his head, I see the Breath of Life in his hands and eyes–though a bit dimmer now than when we danced at the jukebox when I was a toddler.
God’s breath is what makes these bits of dust precious to us, God’s presence and animation in human bodies is what endears others to us so. Even when our bodies fall into the grave–when these dust-ridden, ashy bodies become part of the earth again, God’s presence remains.