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Getting Dirty: Easter, Rogation, and the New Creation

About eighty days ago, at the beginning of Lent, many of us received the sign of ashes with the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

At that time, these words were given and heard with solemnity, even perhaps dread; dust or dirt introduces Lent as a time of reflection on the shape of our life and particularly its finitude. In that context, the reminder of our connection with the earth is solemn or even fearful. “Dust” here has a particular sort of poetic bleakness; but we could just as well say “soil” or “dirt."  All these represent our origins and destiny.

Yet so much depends on context. The historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith tells a story of working on a farm while while preparing to attend an agricultural school:

"I would have to rise at about a quarter to four and fire up the wood burning stove, heat a pan of water and lay out the soap and towels so that my boss could wash when he awoke half an hour later. Each morning, to my growing puzz…

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