Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is always a loaded season for me, tied very much to losses in my personal life. I cared for my dying father through Lent, and he breathed his last on Maundy Thursday. As I cared for my mother years later, we went to the early morning Ash Wednesday service for what would be her last time at St. Alban’s. I wondered how she would feel there, hearing about self-examination, repentance, and the focus on our mortal nature even as she faced her own death.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Bummer, I thought, as I sat weeping next to her.
But Mom got quite engaged in the homily, which reminded us that the dust of which we are made is the stuff of the universe. Carl Sagan is often credited with that proposition – “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star stuff.” – but it had been advanced by early 20th century astronomers. Billions of years ago (and I can’t help but hear Sagan’s voice just typing the word “billions,”) supernova explosions flung their elements into interstellar space, over time condensing into planets and then whales and fleas and you and me. All stardust, just packaged differently.
Mom seemed pleased and smiled. “I’m stardust, and my ashes will be stardust.”
I’ve thought about Mom’s stardust this past week with the exciting discovery of new planets and a star outside our solar system. They share the same star stuff that Mom had, as did a fully human Jesus, as we have. That is crazy-awesome. God’s creation is fantastically boundless, so being of the same substance, we certainly must have limitless potential, as well. It is also humbling; if we imagine that we are better than our neighbor, the news flash is that a thrifty God did not create a special recipe just for progressive Episcopalians … or for Americans.
I probably won’t be giving up quinoa or eclairs or anything else for Lent. Instead, I want to dig deeper, to become clearer about what God intends for me. I’ve chosen one of the books St. Alban’s has cited for Lenten Study and am working to deepen meditation. And knowing we are all made of primal stardust, I hope to see how we can build up God’s kingdom together, you and Jesus and me.
That’s a start. Have a blessed Lent.
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being ... From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill.
Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer C