Lent 2022: Dust

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A few weeks back, I was talking to a friend who was starting a new job. I mentioned that I could hardly believe that I’ve been at the same job for almost 7 years. We talked about how important it is to find joy in your vocation and to genuinely like what you are doing. I said that if whatever I’m doing [job, hobby, volunteer thing] stops being fun, then I won’t want to do it anymore. That’s my barometer. We talked about how my friend, in their former position, wasn’t loving their life. The joy was being sucked out of them. 

Which made me think of the  Pod People in The Dark Crystal when the Skeksis would distill their life essence out of them. And over the course of my 25 year career, I’ve had jobs that reallyReally feel like that. I get it.

When I started doing my research and brainstorming for LentProject2022, I was thinking about Ash Wednesday, and how the priest says “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.  This year, in light of Covid, they didn’t touch your forehead – instead, they sprinkled some dust on the top of your bowed head. Same effect, maybe less of a declaration if it’s in your hair than front and center in a cross-shaped smudge, but times are a’changin’.  When I took the experience of the priest applying the ashes and put that along side my convo about my friend’s (former) job that was “grinding them to dust. ”  I’ve been thinking about how dust figures into the symbolism of both.

Lent is typically seen – by RC kids and others, too – as a time of scarcity. We give something up. No chocolate, no cigarettes, no alcohol. No luxuries. There are different motivations for this. Sometimes it’s to feel a want and deny ourselves the indulgence. Sometimes it’s a mulligan on good habit-building of New Year’s Resolutions that went off the rails. Sometimes it’s just a timeboxed period one can use to better themselves in some way. My impetus for the Lent Projects of past (and present), is because I don’t think it makes me a better vessel for the divine If I don’t have chocolate or don’t play games on my phone or don’t [insert other “giving up” thing here]. I mean, I guess some things might. But the question of “What are you giving up for Lent” usually gets a response of some kind of vice or indulgence. Which seems more like a battle of willpower than a holy practice.
Back to the dust, then.

My friends assertation was that they left their job to find something more beneficial to their well-being and more cup-filling. I’ve always maintained that the overarching effort of my Lent Projects is about the spring cleaning of my soul. Turning away from things that cause more dust in my world seems to fit exquisitely into that paradigm. There’s a quote in a book by Seanan McGuire that also has stuck with me, “No one serves their friends by grinding themselves into dust on the altar of compassion.”. And boyhowdy do I get that. I want to be able to serve when I see a need. But I don’t want to feel resentful about it because I’ve gone to the well too many times and now the well’s run dry. Because yeah, I get that, too.

I find myself on this thin line where I don’t want to be virtue signaling about how sacrificing for others is the *only* way to be a REALLY good mom/friend/person. If you’re not grinding yourself to dust for the greater good, why even bother? That doesn’t feel sustainable at all. And as I look at this during Lent, I mean really, Lent sets the stage and leads us to the Greatest Sacrifice Story of all – Easter.

On the one hand,  no one ever turned to dust for lack of chocolate. Erm. Dementor attack notwithstanding. But seriously, I’m just not sure that a moratorium on Chocolate consumption or a self-imposed prohibition on alcohol for 6 weeks is meaningful enough for me (Your mileage may vary). I mean, sure, if I want to be more bodily healthy, which lends to a better life in which to do good works, yes, 6 weeks without chocolate or booze could help. But it feels like maybe there’s something required of me besides just the act of giving up something for a month and a half.

On the other hand, if I’m a miserable bitch because I don’t have sufficient caffeine in my life, that doesn’t really lend to a better world for those who have do deal with me, now does it?

The internets served up to me a while ago a vignette about a woman who worked at an airport (and my Thinkythought packrat skills are failing me because I can’t find mention of this anywhere. Boo!) As I remember it, she was always had a kind word for the travelers who crossed her path. One day, someone asked her how she can keep pouring kindnesses out into the world, day after day after day. She responded that she wanted to live in a world with kindness and joy in it, and if she helped to put that kindness and joy into her world, she knew it was there. And that seems like a pretty great tack to take during Lent. Maybe giving more of myself – fostering more empathy, volunteering more time or resources, being a better friend and coworker – is a better way to forge a stronger experience of my faith. And in choosing that path more often, I feel like I should know how my best traits atrophy over the course of a year. Caffeinated or not.

This Lent, may I consider what turns the best version of me to dust, may I do more to mitigate that so that I can make a good positive impact on the world around me. May I remember that self care lets me give the world the best of me, instead of the dust that’s left over.

Extra Credit:

I’ve created landing pages for the last 3 years of Lent Project. You can access them from the Reflections Projects option in the menu bar. Happy reading, friends!

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