From dust with love: it’s a letter my father wrote me. He first spoke the words with magic in every syllable, power in his breath. Then, he wrote them down, one finger in the dust tracing my form. Shaping me. Making me. A beautiful, beloved and blessed image of the divine fused with the most simple. Dust. It is the stuff we walk on without even thinking about it. We pick it up with broom and pan, throw it in the trash. We create it with the death of our own flesh. From dust we are formed. To dust we do return.
There is nothing special about dust. It is the least special thing around. It does not have skin colour, nationality, skills, or language. It just is. It hangs in the African air, blocking windpipes and Internet traffic, the very stuff we are made of working against us. It settles on kitchen tables as a thinly veiled reminder of our frailty. So easily wiped away. It works against the cleanliness of our lives, and men don’t even see it… or so I’ve been told. Perhaps it is simply that it is just too commonplace to deserve our attention—like you, like me, like all of us to somebody, at some time—or maybe we avoid it because we don’t want to face the harsh reality that we are nothing but a mess on the counter, bunnies hiding beneath the bed, and African air… suffocation. Dying.
When God sees dust he says, “I can work with that.” He sees the very thing that we don’t see. He sees the potential in every grain of sand, the castles hiding between toddler toes. He sees the muck, the stuff we try to wash away, the stuff we try to forget about, the ignored, the walked on, and says, “I can work with that.” He writes our names in the dust, with love.
Creation is something that I know a little bid about—creating something new with the most simple thing: words. It is a writer’s dream awakening beneath the finger tapping of the divine. But re-creation… that is something far more difficult. That is something that I don’t know very much about. That is something I have never been good at.
Dust gathers in the corners of my office where balls of paper meet, get caught in the forgotten spaces of my life. An unfinished story. A poem that just wasn’t quite working, a word that looked more like a jumble of letters than a language. I am in the process of writing three books right now, but really I am writing none of them. I form an idea, write it down until it runs out of steam—gets messy, a beautiful plot line turned into a pointless effort—and I hide it in the corners of my office space. Forgotten. Every once in a while I pick those stories up again, and I always start at the beginning. I can see the beauty of a story waiting to be told, the magic of the moment of first turning nothing into something, the magic of creation… but then I get to that place where I stopped, the spot where I didn’t have anything left to go on. The place where I left my cursor on the counter to gather dust. I get discouraged when I see dust. I get lost beneath mounds of misery. Because I have never been good at re-creation. I’m better at throwing things away.
Did you know that people used to mend their socks! What a novelty! We, as a society, used to know how to fix things, could push past the brokenness and see the beauty, the potential, in a thing of disrepair, in the forgotten. Now, all we see are memories, throw aways. We try to keep things moving as much as possible so that the dust won’t have time to settle. But it is us who too often settle, and dust is the only thing that has all the time in the world. It has been here since the beginning, and will be here in the end.
God is great at the things that we have forgotten. He is leading on a journey from dust with love, a journey of re-creation. We think that our sins are too great, or his power is too small, or his patience is too short, or our burden is too heavy. When we mess up we think, “I’m worthless. I can’t do anything right.” All he sees is a chance to try again. He doesn’t reward our destination as much as our progress, and our process. He longs to pick up the broken. When we fall, we think we are going backwards, but he says, “let me lift you, carry you forward.” He picks up the dust and shapes it into something brand new, and writes our name in the dust with love.