Spirit-Infused Dirt (Lenten Reflection)

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It was only my third Ash Wednesday service ever (I was confirmed three short years ago), but the words have been ringing in my ears for almost two weeks now.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Why dust?

The other thing I can’t seem to expunge from my mind, along with these “words of imposition,” is Genesis 2:7, very near the beginning of our story (the Old Testament, or what the earliest Christians referred to as our family archive,).

The rabbis would have told the story something like this:

God comes, and God begins to roll up his sleeves and takes off his watch, placing it to the side so that it won’t get dirty. God takes his hands (strong, gentle hands which have just finished the work of creation in Genesis one) and he plunges them down into the fresh soil. (I wonder if he got dirt under his fingernails?) He drives his hands down into the dirt and scoops up a hunk of earth, dust, ashes. He elevates that hunk of dirt up to his face, and he breathes into that clod of earth his ruach elohim, the Spirit of God. And that hunk of earth begins to pulse with new life. It becomes a nephesh hayim, a living creature, alive with an energy the world had never known….

This is the basic pattern of spiritual formation. When God forms a creature spiritually, he elevates it. Just as he elevates or lifts up that hunk of dirt up to his face (in Hebrew and in Greek “face” implies personal presence) so also he elevates earthly things to the realm of heavenly things (see Colossians 3:1-17). Just as God elevates that hunk of dirt to become a living creature, so also he elevates “fleshy things” to become “spiritual things” (see Galatians 5).  This is the pattern: nature is elevated (not left behind) to become grace.

Because, you see, dirt is good, but a pulsing, living creature is far better. The things of the earth are good, but the things of heaven are far better. Bodies are good (after all, God made them!) but a spiritual man or woman (fully embodied for all eternity) is far better.

Now, one might want to move directly from the hunk of dirt to the Christian individual, thinking, “Oh, I get it … just as God elevated the hunk of dirt and perfects it, so also he does that with me!”

This is where a closer look at our narrative helps us. Because when you study the story, what you begin to realize is that the hunk of dirt does not foreshadow you and me as individuals. Rather, it points to Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 we are told (paraphrasing slightly) that “the first man Adam became a living creature, but the second man Christ became a life-giving Spirit.”

Jesus is the ultimate creature (Colossians 1:15 calls him “the first born of all creation”) who was elevated. He is the ultimate spiritual formee. This is why Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus “learned obedience through the things that he suffered.” He did not “pop” out of the womb totally obedient. He had to learn obedience through suffering, rejection, and death.

He was elevated beyond all imagination. Like Neo at the end of the first Matrix he has “busted into a new world.” He is the “Pioneer of our Faith” (Heb 12:2). He has broken through the veil, the barrier with holds you and me down (fear, sin, death).  He was elevated beyond all imagination, going where no man or woman had gone before.

But not until after he was “de-elevated,” demoted. Not until he went down, like a seed falling into the earth, the dirt, the ashes to die.

Why “dust?” This is why.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

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lovely! Thank you.

Kelly, I hope you are having a holy Lent.

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