I searched for the phrase online and finally found it, in the King James Version. It was Abraham, wheedling God not to destroy the city of
Who am I to speak? I am nothing but the dust out of which you made me. Nothing but the ashes I will someday become but for your intervention. Nevertheless, I will speak.
Later in the day, my daughter Charlotte called me up from her college in faraway
and we got to reminiscing about that Ash Wednesday service. It was the only one
she’d ever attended, during her last semester of her last year of high school,
the last year she’d lived at home. Boston
“Maybe I’ll go to an Ash Wednesday service again tonight,” she said on the phone. She sounded wistful.
We had gone that time to the Episcopal church, she and I. It was not our usual church but one
The Episcopal church was better than any other,
told me on the
way there, because they believed that taking care of the less fortunate was more
important than fighting over gay rights. It seemed as worthy a cause as any I
could come up with. And as astute an assessment of any church’s central aims. And
so we got dressed up—another part of the appeal of church for Charlotte , I suspected—and we went, she and
I think Ash Wednesday must be the Episcopalians’ favorite holy day. The service, in any case, murmured and chanted on. And on. I felt nothing. Thought nothing. This happens to me a lot during church services these days, despite my love for God and deep desire to share it in worship.
It doesn’t matter what you feel, I scolded myself. It just matters that you’re there. Obedient. Present. Available to God, however inadequately.
Several times during the service, we echoed Abraham in a repeated choral response: “We are but dust.”
“We are but dust,” I whispered to
at one point. Instantly, unintentionally, the words became “butt dust”—We are butt dust!—and we ducked into each
other’s necks to muffle our laughter. Charlotte
“We are butt dust!”
repeated on the phone today, two years later, laughing. And it occurs to me
that this, too—the humor, the boldness of it—is what faith is about: sharing the
words of scripture as we would a box of malt balls. Feeling them implode in our
mouths, then melt into our tastebuds. Enjoying them together. Charlotte