Lent – the slow-down, the rhythm of peace, the deep searching, the rediscovering of the thirst and hunger for the divine, for something beyond the possible.
Lent begins with dust and ashes; the ashes of last year’s palms, the memory of dust of the Judean desert where for forty days Jesus rests his body, his head, his soul and for forty nights contemplates the stardust of a brilliant night sky only truly seen above a barren desert.
Lent calls us to step back for awhile so we may step forward more wisely. Long after the desert sojourn, Jesus reconnects to dust and earth during the dark moments of his ministry. He spends his nights on hills when he needs to get away, like the Mount of Olives, always a place of peace. Only during the day does he connect with the crowds and all the strife humanity brings. Only during the day does he endure the Temple with all its crowds and rules.
There comes a day when, having spent the night on the Mount of Olives, Jesus comes to the temple to be confronted by a frightening crowd of men (John 8:1-11). They drag a woman before him, caught in adultery. They challenge him, calling for her stoning according to the Law. The woman is but a pawn. They know if he says the Law is wrong he will be discredited as a teacher of Judaism. They know that if he betrays all his teachings on compassion he will be branded a hypocrite. They know, and he knows. So he reaches down, down to the dust at all their feet, down to the dust of the divine, of earth and eternity. And he begins to write.
His written words are lost, but his action of reaching into the dust to write remains. And while he writes he speaks, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”
We can imagine the stunned silence. We can imagine the stones dropping from the hands of those who suddenly remember they are not sinless. We can imagine the dull thud of rock on soil and the sound of the footsteps walking away, leaving only dust behind.
Then and only then does Jesus look up, into the eyes of the only one who remains. The woman. She has a face, eyes, a past. And now a future. He sees her for the person she is. And he asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” When she answers, “No one” he says, “Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus is the only one who, being without sin, could condemn. Yet he shares only forgiveness and compassion. He teaches that the Law in all its condemnation exists only for the pure, of which there is only One. If Jesus does not condemn – if God does not condemn – who are we to judge? The Law is meant to guide toward compassion, toward love. When it fails it is the Law that gives way, not compassion. Like words in the dust, the Law is blown away by the winds of divine love.
Lent begins with peace, with reconnection, with dust. Lent reminds me of the dust of creation, of a world that belongs to God. For what is dust, but the remnant of all that has been before? Of mountains ground down, of palm leaves burned, of memories of long past days? And what is dust but the promise of all that is to come? Dust turned to cement to build, dust turned to fertilizer to grow, dust turned to paint to record, dust turned to possibility to create.
What is the dust of Lent but the space between yesterday and tomorrow? Dust, like Lent, builds a bridge between all that has been and all that will be. Dust, like Lent, holds promise, hope, faith, and the possibility of love. Dust, like Lent, invites us to follow Jesus and write our future in it. May it be one of love.