Monday, February 11, 2013

A Dusty Birth

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

On the day the church faces mortality and looks towards the darkness walking to the cross, I reflect on my death, the death of people I knew, and the ashes that remain.

My step-father and my father have joined the saints and it is their ashes in particular that fill my mind each and every Ash Wednesday.

I have the tradition of scattering the ashes of loved ones wherever I travel marking sacred space.  With each journey I take I am strengthened by their presence and moved to pause for a moment.
    To say thank you.
        To stop.
             To pray.
                  To give thanks.
                          To remember that God brings beauty out of dust.

Traveling to Europe with my mother - the beauty of dust left on an early morning walk.
Graduating college - the beauty of dust across the school seal.
Walking across Spain - the beauty of dust joining the pilgrims across the Way.

And perhaps most memorable were the ashes left in The Gambia, West Africa.

Coming to the end of my two years in The Gambia, I knew I had to scatter my step-father's ashes.  I also knew where they would be scattered.  There was no doubt that the pepper gardens of the women would be a beautiful and meaningful place to honor my step-father.  And Lord knows I spent many hours with the women and buckets back and forth to the lake to the pepper plants and back again.  An early morning sunrise, the heat of the morning, or the setting of the sun provided the backdrop day in and day out as the women provided for their families.

Watering the pepper plants turned into a time of prayer.  A time to be intimately connected to the land, my African family, and the nourishment of mind and body.  It was sacred time in the silence and in the laughter.  Holy space.

The day to scatter the ashes had been set - the day he died.  December 15th.  I had been planning on doing it earlier but once December came I knew the date which called me.

Off I went in the early morning, this time alone.  The sounds of life surrounded me - roosters, chatter of women preparing food, a donkey's bray.  Colors of creation broke through.  The water crisp and cool and the plants yearning for a drink.  I did my work watering the pepper plants helping my pregnant sister.  It had been my gift to her to take over the watering of her garden.  Although she still worked and managed the other children and food and cleaning and laundry.  The little bit of water provided to the plants was the least I could offer.  

There amidst the blazing sun and the growing plants, I scattered his ashes.

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

I remembered.  I prayed.  I breathed in creation. I thanked God for bringing beauty out of dust.

When I returned to my compound later in the day, I asked where my sister was to report of my completion of watering the plants.

"Oh, she went to the neighboring town to the clinic.  She had her baby today.  A baby boy."

Gambians have a different way of keeping time and I was not privy to the impeding due date.  For my sister had just been doing her daily chores the night before pounding and cooking and cleaning.

Yet, there was my family telling me and sharing the good news.  A baby was born.  A baby boy.

I smiled.  I cried a few tears.  For I knew that beauty indeed comes from the dust, and death is never the final word.  For in our death we are bound to Christ in the waters of baptism, waters of new life and hope.

Beautiful dust born in an African village and scattered amid peppers.      

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