Grace and Peace to you.
It’s not easy to tell people they’re going to die. It’s not easy to tell dozens of them, one by one, face to face. They came forward willingly, as if to hear something they wanted to hear. I marked their skulls. I smudged their foreheads with mud, with ashes mixed with oil. I looked them in the eyes. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Old people not far from dusthood, some whose loved ones’ dust has only recently settled, young people hopefully far from it, a few who had narrowly escaped it, and many of them dear to me. I felt the loss as I marked their foreheads, as if I were doing dozens of funerals. Naming the dead. After a while it got sad. I wanted to quit.
But they kept coming. They kept facing their own mortality with calm beauty, with clear eyes, with beating hearts, strong hearts, loving hearts. They lived their lives, even if they were only as long as the line up the aisle, with courage and compassion. They carried their dust through the world with faith, leaning on Jesus, aware that they were nothing but dust and love, and ready to leave the dust behind.
I thought of the early Christians, marked with real crosses, walking lovingly to their death. I thought of Civil Rights marchers, facing violence with faith and courage. I came to believe that I was among a body of people around the globe who will live with love in the face of death, and whom therefore death cannot defeat. My own dust mattered little. It was the love I clung to.
What could I do but join them — to mark my forehead with the dust of death and the ashes of repentance, as one who has died, and walk out of my grave into the light?
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes