During Lent the Bread Line Columns will be ideas from “A Practical Christianity” by Jane Shaw
Next week is Ash Wednesday this week we begin a two-part article about dust.
“From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.” On Ash Wednesday this is what the officiant says as ashes are put on our foreheads and it reminds us of our mortality. But in the Western world today life is good—most of us have all the “things” we want so thoughts of
heaven do not determine our actions. We are guided by love, work, success, money, illness, relationships—these things preoccupy our lives now. When we talk of dust it acknowledges our humble beginnings and helps us discern what it means to lead a moral life, in a world filled with “dust” understood as sin.
Jane Shaw is the Dean of a large cathedral on the west coast and what she sees is that few people go to church and she tries to acknowledge the criticism of the church and then find a place within Christianity that can address the concerns of the people on the margins of the church—those on the outside who are peering in, as well, as those who are central to the church, but want something more to demonstrate Christianity’s particular contribution to shaping the “good life.”
The question then becomes for Christians and non-Christians: What does Christianity offer us in this life? What does faith enable us to do and to be? How can the practice of a spiritual life help us with all that makes daily living real and often ugly and painful—our dust? What particular resources and ideas does Christianity bring to such a life?
Dust is a biblical metaphor and helps speaks to our beginning and our endings, to our place in the world, to the life in Christ that Christians share and to the practical means by which we may live our lives.
The philosopher Alain de Botton writes that “Dust is the most democratic of substances” because it is stuff from which we are all created. For all our achievements and riches humans are created equal, from the same substance in the image and likeness of God.
Jesus reminded his followers that we are all equally and beautifully composed of dust. Jesus washed the dust from his disciples’ feet at supper the night before he died. In an hierarchical society with slaves, where women had no standing Christians provide an alternative. They ate and worshiped together in the same room and tried to assign offices in the church according to gifts. Paul wrote in the first century: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or fee, there is no longer male or female: for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Shaw writes that whatever the church has made of Jesus in the pages of the gospel his ethical teaching based in love and the basic equality of all human beings in the eyes of God is most attractive. Jesus put people above “the law,” treated all kinds of people with respect, healed
on the Sabbath. He washed his disciples’ feet with care, embraced their dust and shattered notions of worthy or unworthy, clean or unclean.
Ash Wednesday Service
Wednesday, February 14, at the home of Taylor and Bobby Duncan,
804 W. Baltimore, 6:00 pm
Watch for details about our Lenten Study beginning February 21 and
continuing until March 28