I don't like dust. And I especially don't like dust bunnies. You know, those mysterious furry things that lurk behind your bedroom door, or in your closet, or under your bed. Who knows how they got there? Who wants to know how they got there? But they're there and I don't like them. And I especially don't like when they move around. You've probably seen them do this. You open a door, look behind it, and the dust bunny catches just enough air that it starts moving like it's possessed.
Ash Wednesday always makes me think about dust because of the words said during the imposition of ashes: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It is not a particularly uplifting image. If the oak tree is the symbol of strength and permanence, dust is the symbol of transience and fragility. Here one moment, gone the next. To be dust is to be fleeting. Dust can be swept away in an instant; or blown away by a gentle breeze. Dust scatters; it is transitory. Just like us. We are no more permanent upon this earth than the smallest speck of dust. With the slightest breath we can be lost forever. Forgotten. Erased as if we had never existed.
Reflecting upon our own mortality is about as much fun as thinking about dust bunnies. The good news is that, as Christians, we do so within the context of Christ's resurrection. Dust is not the end of the story. Death is merely a temporary state, as ephemeral as dust itself. We pass through death into the new life we share with the resurrected Christ. Which doesn't mean that death is without regret or pain or grief. We are human. But the dust of the grave is not our final dwelling place.
Now think about dust for a moment. There are two ways to create it. One is through inactivity. If you go downstairs into a part of the basement you never use, the part where you store old boxes of books or the pair of skis you haven't used in 25 years, you encounter dust. Run your finger along those skis and you get a tangible reminder that they haven't been used in ages. Your finger is suddenly covered with dust. And maybe you even sneeze once or twice.
But there's also another way to create dust: through activity. That's how those dust bunnies in your bedroom came to be. Through the activity of everyday life, you create dust. It comes in on your shoes, or your clothes; it's formed when you take that cookbook off the shelf to find a recipe for guacamole. If we're not kicking up some dust, we're not really living.
So, there are two ways to create dust: through inactivity or through activity. And the best we can do is to create dust by being active. When you reach out to a friend who's hurting, you kick up dust. When you volunteer your time to tutor a child, you kick up dust. When you sacrifice an afternoon to work on a Habitat for Humanity house, you kick up dust – both figuratively and literally. Jesus encourages us to kick up some dust every now and then; to roll up our sleeves and get involved with the world and the people around us. We might get a bit dirty every once in a while, but that's okay. Because through our relationship with Jesus we are cleansed and renewed and dusted off.