"For dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19
The familiar words jolted my memory during the Ash Wednesday service this week. I am not a religious Christian, nor a religious Anglican. I hang loose to various rituals and customs in my denominational tradition. But neither do I shun them at times because I am confident that God can speak to me in any way He chooses, even in church. So this week I chose to attend this special service, confident also that there would be a great message, as there always is, from our gifted and wise female pastor/priest, Kelly. So I had the ashes imposed, and began the season of Lenten reflection with a black sign of the cross on my forehead. It didn't last long, so I didn't have to worry about parading my piety out in the world. I got what I came for - an opportunity to reflect quietly in a shared and sacred space.
Dust was on my mind, and the phrase repeated by my dear Ugandan friend, Canon Marie. She used to say that the only D.D. she wanted was "Down in the Dust." The D.D. of course we were speaking of was the title of Doctor of Divinity, an honorary or earned degree. "Down in the dust", she said, "down in the dust with Jesus." Canon Marie's comment was typical of her honesty and her humility, two of the qualities which had drawn us into close friendship during my family's missionary years in Uganda. Together we began an English Bible Class which still operates more than ten years later, and eight years after our departure from that beautiful land.
But it wasn't just a saying for my dear friend Marie. It was a reality she lived. Up before dawn every day she did heavy digging in her vegetable garden, eager to make a little extra money for her family at the local market. Then a full day doing ministry in the church and home to prepare an evening meal for her husband and family of boys. Her long years of service in the church had been recognized with the title and honour of Canon. However she was a woman, and she was a friend of "the whites". She was my friend, when people didn't understand us, when people didn't like us, when people told lies about us, when people told lies about her, and the supposed advantages she had gained through being my friend. When we suffered deeply from the prejudice that eventually turned to danger and sent us home to protect our family, I could do nothing about the suffering that came upon her. I often wondered, and said to her later, that if I had known what she would suffer for being my friend I wonder if I would have pursued that friendship which brought me so much comfort and opportunity for ministry.
I believe Canon Marie has known and continues to know what it means to be "Down in the Dust". And she knows also, as I do, that it is the only safe place to be. It is not safe to be "special", to be in an important position, to be in special ministry or in any way "above" others. Soon enough something will happen to bring us down into the dust. And when we are we know for sure the joy of His presence with us, as He walks with us along roads of suffering and sacrifice, which eventually bring us into the resurrection freedom He has promised for us.
I am glad I can remember these words and principles this Lent. And I shall never forget them.