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Dust to Dust

“Yahweh formed the human, of dust from the soil, and blew into that one’s nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.” (Genesis 2: 7, translation adapted from Everett Fox)

“To Adam, Yahweh said:
. . . By the seat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.” (Genesis 3:17;19, trans. By Fox)

These two snippets are taken from the same creation story in Genesis. Adam/the human is created from adama/the soil. And that’s a good thing – there is an inherent oneness, we might even say an inherent “is-ness” about all of creation, including humankind. But the story goes on. Stuff happens. Estrangement, longing and desire, alienation. One short chapter later, Adam, Eve, and the wily Serpent are all in trouble, each receiving bad news from the Creator. The second passage above is from the tail- end of what has become known as “The Curse of Adam,” in which he finds out that he will have to sweat and toil in order to survive. Throughout much of history, theologians have understood the final line, “For you are dust, and to dust shall you return,” as the climax of the curse – the ultimate blow.

But what if it isn’t a curse at all, but the ultimate blessing? A reminder that, after all we’ve been through, we came from something beyond our own small “story of I” (Joan Halifax) that has captured most of our attention, and we return to being part of creation. What if the estrangement, alienation, drama and intrigue of this world not really the “stuff” we are made of after all? Perhaps the ashes of our personal failures, our grief and anger, of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams, mix with the very dust of the earth itself, and we find our way back through the layers of clutter that have long separated us from ourselves.

To know that we are dust is to know what we were made of before, and to know to whence we are returning — everyone, eventually, once again. The contemplation of this simple truth invites us to a place of living larger, deeper, and with more spaciousness – beyond what clutters up our days. It invites us to come home to a new place, one that both embraces and propels us beyond our own personal sufferings, cleanly-swept with hope and possibility.

Question: What kind of dust are you made of?

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