("Blowin’ in the Wind" is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me or give me joy. I trust they’ll do the same for you.)
It has been some time since I shared a “Blowin’ in the Wind” column, guess I’ve found it more meaningful of late to post writings of my own. But, with Lent looming this week, I’m thinking today of a Walter Brueggemann* devotional recently shared with me, courtesy of my colleague and friend Scott. Scott says that Brueggemann is one of his favorite thinkers, and since Scott is one of mine, that means something to me.
This week our church will offer an Ash Wednesday worship service, which traditionally includes the imposition of a smudge of ash on the worshiper’s forehead marked in the sign of the Cross, and accompanied by words such as, “Remember you are dust (Psalm 103:14),” or, “From dust you were made, to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19).” It’s a service that more and more of those from my Christian tradition are recovering from the larger, ancient church. Some think it’s only about penitence and self-denial, a reminder of our groveling position before God. Brueggemann would disagree, and does the exegesis in the devotional to support his thesis. He insists it’s also about remembering the Source of our life -- the breath of the Holy Spirit -- about the Creator’s act of breathing life into our heretofore inanimate frames.
Here’s the excerpt I wanted to share with you today. If you’d like to be directed to the whole article, message me and let me know. He has previously referenced Genesis 2:7 (Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being...), and the quote draws attention back to it:
This is a crucial and well-known text for understanding and articulating a biblical notion of human personhood. This formula affirms four matters: first, the human person is fundamentally and elementally material in origin and composition, genuinely an "earth-creature," subject to all the realities and limitations of materiality. Second, because the human person is an "earth-creature," it belongs with, to, and for the earth, and all other creatures share the same qualities of life. Third, this mass of earth ("dust") is no self-starter. In and of itself, it remains inanimate and lifeless. "Dust from the ground" by itself is no human person. Fourth, the vitality of the human person depends on God's gift of breath which is freely and graciously given without cause, but which never becomes the property or possession of the human person.
Thus human persons are dependent, vulnerable, and precarious, relying in each moment on the gracious gift of breath which makes human life possible. Moreover, this precarious condition is definitional for human existence, marking the human person from the very first moment of existence. That is, human vulnerability is not late, not chosen, not punishment, not an aberration, not related to sin. It belongs to the healthy, original characterization of human personhood in relation to God. This is what it means to be human. This rather elemental and straightforward physiology marks the human person as a creature who lives by the daily, moment by moment generosity of God.
You and I are enlivened by the generous wind of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I should not have titled this Blowin’ in the Wind post “Lent, Loam and Life.” Maybe a better title might have been, with a head nod to a favorite old rock band, “Dust in the Wind.”
~~ RGM, February 27, 2017
P.S. And speaking of beauty from dust, if you’ve got an extra five minutes, take a listen to Gungor’s “You Make Beautiful Things.” It speaks the same language in a differently-poetic way than Brueggemann.
*(Walter Brueggemann [b. 1933] is a Nebraska-born author and retired seminary professor, considered one of the preeminent Old Testament scholars and theologians of recent decades.)