From Stardust We Spring Forward
Lent in Process Perspective
by Dr. Paul Bube
We are made up of that stellar matter that emerged from the big bang. We are a part of the great unfolding of billions of years of a birthing creation that has achieved consciousness of itself. We are dust. Stardust!
The imposition of Wednesday’s ashes had been followed by communion. Lent is not all about my spiritual growth as an individual; it is about growth in and with community.
After all, the root meaning of “Lent” is “spring.” It is the season of resurrection when new life emerges from the dust of the earth…and from our stardust selves.
I see new possibilities in our dusty mortality: about what we might gain not what we have lost and will lose, and about what new stars we may birth together with our shared dust selves. Lent is as much about God’s ideal aim for us as it is our perpetual perishing.
Are you wondering how to spring forward? How to practice process thought? There are many ways:
Seeking Economic Justice
Resisting Climate Change
Volunteering Time and Energy
Practicing Love and Justice
Taking Care of Yourself
The Bigger Picture
Are you new to process philosophy? This website offers the most comprehensive introduction available for applied process thinking. A shorthand version of the website, along with many other links, can be found at Process Philosophy and the Culture of Possibility.
As I do most years, I attended the evening Ash Wednesday service at my church. Lent has been an important part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church (early post-Vatican II), going to Mass daily throughout my eight years at St. Anthony Elementary School in Clarksville, Indiana.
Ash Wednesday was somber: all statuary was cloaked in black shrouds; the organ seemed to take on a gloomy tone; the priest’s voice seemed muted; ashes were imposed on our foreheads and we were reminded that we are dust and to dust we would return. The day was the beginning of six weeks of mourning. Lent was all about mortality—a reminder that we would die and that Jesus had died. Consequently, the 40 days of Lent have always been tainted by a feeling of loss and dread.
Tonight’s service echoed those same themes elegantly, powerfully. Death. Impermanence. Mortality. Sin. Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted, we need 40 days to confront the ways we have succumbed to temptation; to repent; to prepare to die to our sin and to ourselves. Whitehead would call this the truth of perpetual perishing. We are dust.
But tonight’s service was different. There was for me a sort of “aha moment.” The phrase “we are dust” had been echoing in my mind all day. One blogger, Rachel Held Evans, posted on Twitter, “It's maybe the truest thing we hear in church all year: We are dust, and to dust we will return.” But when I heard that statement in church tonight, for some reason I heard a truth in it that I had not heard before.
Years ago, when I lived in Kansas, I got to know Wes Jackson, a modern prophet who is working to create and promote ecological agricultural practices before it is too late for our planet. He once said to me, “we are stardust.” We are made up of that stellar matter that emerged from the big bang. We are a part of the great unfolding of billions of years of a birthing creation that has achieved consciousness of itself. We are dust. Stardust!
After the imposition of ashes tonight, we shared in the sacrament of communion, that powerful symbol of our connection with one another—as Whitehead would say, we are internally related to each other. This journey of stardust toward consciousness of itself as such is not a lonely affair. We discover ourselves in one another. We share a common origin and a common destiny: We are star dust—together—and to stardust we return.
Although I have occasionally heard it said that Lent doesn’t have to be about giving things up, but in doing something positive, I have always found it easier to stay with what is familiar than to embrace the possibilities of creative transformation. Giving up desserts or television or a weekly meal are the easy way to go for me. They don’t require much imagination, and they are merely short term inconveniences. Although giving things up often reminds me of important truths about my life, for example, the blessing of taste and the sweet richness of our lives, it has never really affected me beyond the 40 days of Lent. Giving things up doesn’t transform me; it doesn’t lead me to new life. After six weeks of inconvenience, the dust settles, but no stars are born.
If I am indeed stardust, are there any Lenten resolutions that can better help me to realize God’s ideal aim for me rather than merely dwelling in my perpetual perishing? What would help me to become more open to God's creative transformation? This question challenged me to reflect more deeply on what my “aha” realization that we are stardust means for my observance of Lent this year. I concluded that one way to approach this Lent is simply to be more open to creativity. Creativity in my life has been an important philosophical concept and something I admire in others. But I have no musical ability. I don’t dance or act or draw or paint. But I do spend a fair amount of time writing reports, memos, e-mails—but not creatively.
Thus I arrived at my first resolution: Write an hour every day about things other than my job and daily communications.
That seemed like a good start, but I want this act of creation to take place within the context of my spiritual life this Lent. That led to a second resolution: Make part of that writing a prayer journal.
As soon as I arrived at that resolution, I realized that I was confusing creativity with producing something rather than being open to and receiving God’s ideal aim for me. Hence a third resolution: Meditate—take time to open myself to God's call forward to new life.
As I looked (somewhat proudly, I’m sorry to say) on these three resolutions, it struck me that they were focused on me, as if I were the only dust of value in this universe. The imposition of Wednesday’s ashes had been followed by communion. Lent is not all about my spiritual growth as an individual; it is about growth in and with community.
Two more resolutions for Lent were beckoning me: Be intentional about letting others know they are stardust, especially those people who think they are less than stellar; and Take time to gaze at those brother and sister stars in the sky to remind me that all creation is interrelated and interdependent. For from stardust we came and to stardust we shall return.
Thus, my Lent begins. I see new possibilities in our dusty mortality: about what we might gain not what we have lost and will lose, and about what new stars we may birth together with our shared dust selves. Lent is as much about God’s ideal aim for us as it is our perpetual perishing. After all, the root meaning of “Lent” is “spring.” It is the season of resurrection when new life emerges from the dust of the earth…and from our stardust selves.