Blessing The Dust

“what has made it through the burning”


All those days
you felt like dust,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—
Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
nor for thinking
we are less
than we are,
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.
                                                               “Blessing the Dust”  ~  Jan Richardson


Comments always are welcome.

32 thoughts on “Blessing The Dust

  1. I drove through Yellowstone a number of years ago, shortly after the fire that had its way with so much of it. We were in a hurry, and I remember one scene as if it were yesterday, of new shoots emerging from scorched ground. I chose not to ask my family for permission for yet another photo stop, and I regret it to this day. Still, it lives in memory. This brings it very clearly to mind. Thanks, Linda!

    1. There’s nothing more remarkable than that first flush of growth after fire, regardless of the fire’s source. Of course, the ability to retain experiences in memory is remarkable, too. It’s one reason I sometimes choose to put the camera down, and simply watch. I’m glad this renewed some memories for you, too.

    1. I was especially taken with the water coursing through the burned land. While stretches of burned prairie can be impressive, they can seem only flat, and dead. The moving water makes a good addition, I think.

    1. I found the imagery appealing, too. It always delights me to find a poem like this tucked away in relative obscurity, and then to bring it out for other’s enjoyment.

    1. At our NPSOT chapter meeting Monday night, our speaker focused on urban ecology. One of the issues he mentioned was fragmentation, which happens both naturally and in the course of urban development. Jed was raised in Hawaii, and he mentioned the “islands” formed by volcanic lava as one example of the natural fragmentation of an ecosystem, although he didn’t use the word kīpuka.

      It was the first time I’d heard the concept described. It certainly didn’t take long for it to show up again in your comment, and now I have a word for it. The way these things go, I expect to come across the concept or the word multiple times in the coming days.

    1. One of the nice things about growing older is that we come to recognize devastation and renewal as a cycle, because we’ve experienced it in so many ways. It reminds me of Camus’ famous words: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

  2. Was this a prescribed burn? It looks just like our preserves when the burn crew is done with them, all ready to burst into fresh growth. I’ve read that land managers in California are realizing that prescribed burns will help alleviate the severity of wildfires and I am encouraged. The poem is beautiful. I wonder if I’ve come across excerpts of it somewhere? It sounded vaguely familiar.

    1. It was prescribed. There have been multiple burns in my area over the winter, and it’s really interesting to see different sections of land at different points in the process of regeneration. It’s good to hear that California might be catching up with the rest of the world. :-)

      The poem’s brand new to me, as is the poet. I loved it at first read, and it wouldn’t surprise me to know it’s been excerpted in places.

      1. This is one area that California is really lagging behind and desperately needs to catch up, isn’t it? Of course if I were a land manager there and knew the stakes, I’d tremble at lighting the first match too.

    1. Thanks, Jeanie. At the time I made those trips out to the prairies to see the burns, it crossed my mind that one of those photos would do well for Ash Wednesday. I was glad I remembered, and glad I found such a lovely poem to pair with it.

  3. Perfect Ash Wednesday post, Linda! I realize not every religion observes this tradition, but it seems appropriate at the beginning of Lent to do something outward to show us our need to do something on the inside so we’ll be ready to celebrate Easter. And did you know the last time Ash Wednesday occurred on Valentine’s Day was in 1945??

    1. I didn’t know that 1945 was the most recent co-celebration, but it made me curious about the next time the two days coincide. Lo and behold, we’ll have Ash Wednesday/Valentine Day pairings again in 2024 and 2029. I’m pretty sure I’ll still be around in six years, so I’ve tucked my great idea for a post that honors both days in my files — all I have to do is remember that it’s there!

      But for now, it’s time for rest, reflection, and renewal. I’ve always thought of Lent as a quiet season, and it’s quiet tonight. In fact, the windows are open, and I can hear frogs, and night birds. I think they’re as happy as we are to have suddenly warmer temperatures, and some signs of spring.

    1. This section actually was burned long enough ago that the grasses have come back, but there are other sections that were burned in the past month, so we’ll see what happens. My real concern is the roadside where I found unbelievable numbers of flowers three years ago. The county seems determined to mow, and there haven’t been flowers there for two years. This year, they may have mowed early enough that they’ll appear again — my fingers are crossed.

      1. Same problem here. The mowers come out too soon- before the seeds ripen but I’ve noted along Highway 6 going toward Marlin that the mowing was later. I have no idea if that was accidental or intentional. I hope it was a matter of some higher up, using good judgment.

    1. There wasn’t any need to desaturate the photo for effect, but I did darken the water just a bit, and thought it helped to bring out the contrast between the flowing stream and the ashen fields. I’m glad you liked it.

    1. It’s been a real joy for me to watch the prescribed prairie burns, and then to watch their regrowth. They stand as a sign of hope in so many ways: some of which Richardson caught up in her poem, I think. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Lavinia.

    1. That it is. We tend to forget how many cycles we live in simultaneously: not only dramatic ones, like birth and death, but daily ones, too — sunrise and sunset, the change of seasons, and so on. I’ve often thought that the normal cycles of life help us to understand that more dramatic, destructive events can be lived through, too. I suspect it’s one reason people love spring as they do.

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