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Dust and Ashes
Returning to dust implies that we've been dust before. Has that
occurred to you? It reminds me of the big bang. I like the idea
that we are all minor confederations of stardust. The universe has
all the matter and anti-matter it has had from the alpha point and
will have to the omega point. It's just being reorganized all the
time. I find this awesome to contemplate.

There was a silly romantic comedy by Woody Allen, who is quite a
philosophical theologian in his own right. I can't remember the
title, but there's a scene I'll never forget. It was both hilarious
and profound. He's always the main character, of course. In this
scene, his elderly parents had died and their bodies had been
cremated. He was at the funeral parlor for their memorial services,
when the urns containing their ashes were spilled out in a slapstick
accident. As they swirled in mid-air, they spontaneously reconstituted
themselves into particulate clouds resembling the people they had
once been and proceeded to do a song and dance routine celebrating
love and life. It was the Woody Allen version of Ezekiel's dry

Ezekiel says bones sing to us. I hear dust and ashes singing too,
songs of our past and those who have gone before, songs of our
future and those who will come after, songs of our essential kinship
with all matter. My parents' bodies were cremated and mostly
dispersed, although some of their ashes were interred in a marked place.
But the dispersion helps me to feel them airborne all around us, making us
laugh at their song and dance routine. It helps me to imagine them
riding the winds of the upper atmosphere in celebration.

It's hard to contemplate dust and ashes without having the images
of the explosions of the Challenger, the World Trade Center towers,
and the Columbia flash across my frontal lobe. They were almost
instantaneous transformations of so many precious life forms, along
with such masterpieces of human artifice and artifact, blown back
into their more elemental and particulate nature. The dust and ashes
of those lost are singing of human striving, of enterprise and
excellence, of aesthetics.

Presently we face the threat of violence that could blow us all
to smithereens, making me wonder what this cosmic adventure is all
about. Is it about the celebration of life in all its forms, in
song and dance, artifice and artifact? Is it about blowing each
other to kingdom come? And if it's about celebration rather than
conflagration, then how are we to redirect ourselves, our energies,
our arts and efforts? In the continual evolutionary reconstitution
of particles, is there another way for protoplasm to self-organize,
so that various confederations of dust could learn to coexist and
maybe even cooperate in the service of the celebration itself?

Dust we certainly are, and to dust we shall return. The questions
are how soon and under what circumstances and in the service of
what end? Let our inevitable disintegration be as spectacular as a
National Geographic photo of a supernova, full of grace and beauty,
rather than another tragic explosion in stark witness to human
--by The Rev. Dr. Katherine M. Lehman



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