I forgot about the cross shaped ash above my eyes until gray shaded Zella’s right temple. My human wore off on her human and we sat snuggled, human dust together. She refused the ashes offered at the service, “One day,” she told me later, “when it’s that time, I’ll get some ashes on my forehead.” But she got them anyway, by way of her clinging nearness to me. Like Jesus, but with defiance and doubt.
I struggled to be completely present as we walked the short aisle to my “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” pronouncement. I spent all 14 steps whispering into Zella’s squirming cheek the reasons why we were doing this strange thing. But later, when motherhood wasn’t on my hip, I considered that Jesus became sin. His coming to earth was nothing like a charade, nothing pretend; God made Jesus to be sin (2 Corinthians 5:20, ESV), a crumbled corpse of human wretchedness so that we could enjoy the glorious perfection of God’s righteousness. Jesus became sin so that sin could die.
Jesus got so clinging near to me that He took on my worst thoughts, my worst days, my worst dust. And I am, yes, the child squirming on the hip – the defiant and doubtful toddler with skeptical eyebrows and too-loud voice.
The weight and the wild of this season pushes down and presses out, and I stretch my limbs in a contorted, desperate dance to make the mystery less ethereal; to feel the flesh and the blood and the dust of it on my skin and in my lungs and with my teeth.
“I love you and I want you to come here to my house and I don’t want you to die,” she said, “write that to her.” I filtered. I decided it wasn’t the kind of uplifting message we wanted for Zella’s library teacher, Miss Lisa. But as her crazy, fly-away (three day old) top knot bounced with squealing excitement to deliver the message, I knew I would have to tell Miss Lisa what I edited out. Zella does not want her to die and that is a wonderful thing to want for a person. A beautiful and pure and human thing to want for a person.
Maybe it is not ethereal yet, for her. Maybe she feels everything with her skin and lungs and teeth and I have long forgotten how.
I war against my dust. I am tempted to poof it like chalkboard erasers – to make much and little of it all at once, getting caught up and long-winded and concerned with the way the light hits it or how I can’t seem to see anything else. In Ecclesiastes, the word often translated as “meaningless” is used nearly 40 times to stress this human condition, but it is the Hebrew word “hevel,” which means: smoke or vapor. In Jesus, God again makes something out of nothing. He repeats the good work of Creation when he takes dust and makes it divine.
Jesus got so clinging near to get all my dust that I might get all His righteousness.