A report came to me on the way home from Ash Wednesday service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis about another two journalists being killed while reporting from Syria about the brutal crackdown of President Assad. In some ways, it was hard to tell at first that they were talking about one of these reporters’ deaths, because they were saying how funny she was, how caring and full of life.
But you knew what they were saying. Marie Colvin was dead, killed in the line of her duty, while being a witness of violence against one’s own people in a part of the world that has seen much violence. As one mentioned, she was covering this story, and had now become part of it.
“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Marie Colvin was not dust yesterday. At least nobody would have said so.
Today, hearing these words, “you are dust,” sounds demeaning, diminishing, depressing, and final. But I am here to hear them said, and here to pronounce them: Child of God, whether or not you believe in God, however you believe or not, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Some days, it is true, I do not feel much above the level of dust. I don’t know what I am doing, where I am going, how I will bring my life to amount to much more than a pile of dust when it is all said and done.
Sometimes, it seems like all my dreams are but dust, all my accomplishments, dust to the wind, all my caring for others, dust to brush off one’s sandals.
Sometimes, dusty roads are the only ones that seem to lie ahead.
The problem with that is--whenever you try to hold on too tight to a handful of dust, it breaks free and takes to the wind. Dust calls to dust at the thunder of dustbowl storms, and all the dust has gone over us.
Because we are all made of stars.
My ancestors fascinate me, because they are now dust, and yet they blipped across the screen of the world for some great moments. I have images of some of them, back about 130 years at most.
These ancestors were made of stardust, and part of my image of them is that once again, their souls returned back to the stars, to the structure of space that is all in God. My dust comes from them, and theirs comes down a path that extends billions of years into the past. And the past extends to the maker of what is, was, and is to come.
Pages on which information about my ancestors is written crumble, as do their pictures. People who do not value these things throw these pictures away, and the ground or a fire claims them. They were somewhere, and now, like my ancestors themselves, many of these mementos of them are also dust.
In some time, objects and humans come to resemble each other. But although we are made of stars, we’re made of more than makes up our things, mementos, pictures, records of our existence.
We are also made of memory, and possibility, made of hydrated dust, but also of the starlight of life that shines from God through the prisms of our bodies, and into the future.
The message of Ash Wednesday, which pronounces such harsh words, also calls us to release our tight grip over the dust of our lives, and not to worry so much about where we will go when we return to dust, because all of that dust is in God.
“People they come together, people they fall apart...”
Moby’s song “We Are All Made of Stars” says it all.
Christians turn again to the face of God explicitly on Ash Wednesday, but each of us must to daily, hourly, practically by the nanosecond, given our instinctive need to turn away from God, to run right straight into the sun, and experience all of the separation and desolation that our desperate hearts can give us.
But those hearts are made for loving as well; they are filled with the water of oceans as well as the dust of stars. God would not give us lives to live if all they were is dust. We would have stayed in the stars.
Today is another day to live, to struggle with continuing to live in the face of trying conditions, to mourn those who are not living, to anticipate the day when we and our loved ones will not live, and yet, to live with all of the strength in us that fights to keep the flame of life alive, set ablaze by the spark of God's love.
Blessed friends, we are all made of stars. Let your star shine with the internal light of love given you before the ages began, and the eternal light of the one who made this universe and everything in it.