Lenten Spring Cleaning: Seeing and Sweeping the Dust
We don’t have many Dust Bunnies at our home.
We do, however, have an abundance of what we have come to call Dust T-Rexes.
Our family pet Rexes are actually gentle, and don’t scare me in the least…until guests–especially unexpected guests–come over.
Then they rear up, they seem to grow, and their terrifying size and presence in every room and hallway frighten me so much that I actually start looking for the one weapon that has the power to make them extinct: The Broom.
I like to claim that I don’t use this weapon because I’m a pacifist in all things, but really, it’s that my broom is just not that easily locatable, because Life so often Intervenes here.
And so, therefore, do our Dust T-Rexes.
Today is Ash Wednesday, and the day when many Christians make their way to church to hear that they are dust, and to dust they will return. Following that declaration, they will be marked with the ashes of the alleluias burned from the leaves of last year’s jubilant Palm Sunday.
It is nigh impossible to find a day laden with, framed by, shot through with so much symbolism and meaning and arc: marks of joy transformed into marks of mourning, songs of exultation into songs of solemnity, the truth of being fully alive into the truth that we will completely die.
It is a day that I have come to experience as both melancholy and freeing: melancholy for, if we engage the day seriously, we stare squarely at the deaths we have been dealt.
That, in a word (even if it is a made-up word) is unfun.
It hurts to intentionally recall and risk feeling again deep losses and offenses and furies, especially if the wounds are still fresh.
But/and then we stare squarely at the deaths we have dealt others; freeing, for, if we engage the day seriously, we stare squarely at the facts of our imperfections, our finitude, our transgressions, and own that they have caused hurt and harm. It hurts to own our culpability, if not masterminding, of actions and words that we knew would sting, would maim, would kill spirits.
But then we are freed to realize that even these deaths will also turn to dust.
Intense a day as it is, it is a wonder that every Ash Wednesday we don’t all go hiding where my T-Rexes lurk: skulking in the shadows and behind large objects and beneath the line of vision.
The word ‘Lent’ means, of course, “Spring.”
That’s convenient, for Lent is, in a sense, like Spring Cleaning: we are dusty, in every sense of the word.
Let’s be honest: we each have our own spiritual, emotional, physical, psychic dirt. Depending on the day or the infraction, they are on the bunny/T-Rex spectrum.
We like to hide our dirt under the figurative beds and couches of our public lives, but we know it’s there, and (I hate to break it to you) the guests in our lives probably do too.
For that matter, communally, as the palpable and also nebulous rancor, fear, hate, and disrespect swirl about us these days, we know that there are more than a few places that need more than a mere broom.
But all of that said, Ash Wednesday need not smack of a season of furious and relentless cleansing, of fear-driven purification processes that leave us less clean and rather more raw.
At the same time, there is something to be said for Ash Wednesday inviting us into a longer-than-Lent-lasts mindful pursuit of clean-living–not of the Puritan variety, but of the maybe-we-could-see-better-out-our-windows-if-we-actually-owned-a-bottle-of-Windex sort.
Ash Wednesday, that is, is an occasion to notice rather than ignore where our dust is; to see it, to not hide it; to know that we are not alone in having some dirt on us and in our rooms; and to know that we will neither ever find all of our dusty spots, nor keep them eternally clean.
It is an occasion to know that we are dust–and that means that even our dust is dust.
It will, by God’s grace, also die and be made into something new.
But by the same token, Ash Wednesday is an occasion to know that, given all of that, we might as well spend the time we are alive by actually living, living by way of flinging open the windows of the places we inhabit and work and recreate, of airing the places out, of finding fresh ways of being, and maybe, just maybe, finding that broom and sweeping the more threatening Dust T-Rexes, and our guilt about them, and our beholdenness to them out out out…and maybe even find the confidence to let others–strangers, foreigners, family, friends, former enemies–in, in, into our lives, no longer afraid or ashamed of our dirt.
Two links that may be of use to you today and into the Lenten season: links to all of the blogs I’ve written that have been tagged with first Ash Wednesday, and then Lent.