Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cosmic Dust

Please join me for “The Passion: In Arts, Texts, and Music: A Contemplative Retreat for Lent” 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., this Saturday, March 8, 2014 at Columbia Theological Seminary.

“Dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return.”

Being Ash Wednesday, today many of us will hear these words while receiving ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. It reminds us of our mortality, our finite lives, and thus calls us to appropriate humility in the face of the infinite.

But I wonder if there’s another way to observe this day and the season of Lent which it inaugurates by considering where those ashes come from. I don’t mean their traditional origin in last year’s Palm Sunday palm fronds that are burned to ashes and mixed with oil to create an adhesive mix, but a deeper origin.

What if we think of the ashes as cosmic dust?

We are made of the stuff of stars generated billions of years ago that evolved into living things that eventually produced our species, providing a lineage that goes all the way back to the origins of the universe. And our human lineage goes back to the first beings that looked and thought and felt like us as well as future beings we will never know and who will learn and do and think greater things than we can imagine.

And within this lineage is our own personal lineage whose flesh we more directly share, parents and grandparents and ancestors, children and grandchildren and descendants.

Today’s ashes, today’s cosmic dust, may remind us not only of being finite creatures, but of our seemingly infinite relations with the cosmos, with this planet and our sun and moon, with all of earth’s creatures, with humankind past and present and future. And so it may remind us of the importance of our lives: to live them well, to love abundantly, to give extravagantly.

For those of us who try to follow Jesus, Lent and Holy Week is especially a time to honor his life well lived, his sacrificial and atoning love, his gracious generosity.  It’s a hard act to follow, but we are called to do no less.

For we, too, are cosmic dust.

This Sunday, catch Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

Each Wednesday of Lent, I will provide links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      The Right Word
Friday:            Acts of God and Acts of War
Sunday:          Shoveling Manure
Monday:         Spiritual Freedom
Tuesday:        Redeemed from the Pit

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Copyright © 2014 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 


  1. Such a wonderful and relevant reflection for this Ash Wednesday. We are dust, and we will return to dust - but as such we are also interwoven into the very fabric of eternal existence. Beautiful. Thank you for this ministry.

  2. Thanks, Zac! Have a meaningful Ash Wednesday and Lent. Great hearing from you!

  3. This resonates completely with a passage in Sister Miriam Therese Winter's memoir "The Singer and the Song" (Winter is the composer of a whole lot of liturgical music in the folk style that is my favorite - "Joy is Like the Rain", for example). I used that quote when distributing ashes years ago - "Remember, human, that you are stardust, and to stardust you will return!" From my perspective, it completely changes the emphasis!

  4. Thanks so much for these tantalizing thoughts, Chris. Just finished breakfast with Monte Vista Grove friends and am reflecting much on mortality for an upcoming sermon just now. It will be the same week as the anniversary of Mom's death. You have made a helpful contribution to what is already germinating.

    1. Thanks, Don! Seems like you weren't long ago preparing a homily for a memorial service for a friend. I guess we're at that age!

  5. thanks for reminding me. now. i wonder why it reminded me of this nagging thing that is in my mind all the time---all can have all they want when all have all they need. Or something like that. ??????? don't ask me! It might come from "nothing left to lose"