Dust and Silence: Two Small Reflections

Part I: Dust

Genesis 3:19b: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

I shall return to dust. So, will you.

Such is the decree the scriptures make as a reminder to every child of God willing to humbly acknowledge his or her material origins. It is especially aroused in the memory of Christian believers who kneel at the altar on Ash Wednesday and receive the sign of the cross written in ashes on their foreheads.

I recall thinking this was a sobering and fearful pronouncement when I first knelt to receive the ashes of Lent.

But the promise of God, the creator-redeemer-sustainer, has changed that and taken away my fears. Dust is not nothingness. And despite sounding harsh to human ears, the return to dust is a return to our origins. Even DNA goes to dust.

And, as an added assurance, contemporary quantum physics has supported my faith optimism, which assures me that the most fundamental material of the universe is dust!

We will all become dust again, no matter if we are buried, incinerated, blasted into irretrievable particles, devoured, or lost in the depths of the sea. We will return to the material out of which the Lord God created us.

Dust is God’s material; the potter’s clay; the soil of sustenance; the stuff of galaxies and the periodic table; the mysterious dark matter.

Dust speaks to me, saying, “Be at ease; the Potter remains at work.”


Part II: Silence

In the Hebrew scriptures, the First Book of Kings relates the story of the prophet Elijah.

As that book nears its conclusion, Elijah, fleeing the angry wrath of Jezebel the sinister wife of King Ahab, is miraculously led by an angel and kept going for forty days until he reaches a cave at Mount Horeb in the Sinai desert. This location is the same region, many scholars tell us, where Moses first spoke with the great “I AM.”

Here Elijah learns that God reveals himself in the windstorm, and more powerfully in the quaking of the earth, and also in a roaring fire (perhaps of eruption).

But then the surprising text tells us the prophet discovers that God is found in the “sheer silence.” (I Kings 19:12)

The New Revised Standard Version gives us the startling Hebrew expression in English: “the sound of the sheer silence.”

And probably you, as did I, thought singer Paul Simon was the first to write about the sounds of silence!

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