A Practical Christianity: Chapter 1

The liturgy of Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust—all of us. But that was last week. Once the last particles of dust have left our foreheads it can be hard to remember this fact. The yearly remembrance of Ash Wednesday is helpful but the world and our busy lives has a way of too quickly settling us back into ”business as usual” and slotting us back into our regular habits and routines. In chapter 1 of A Practical Christianity we are told that dust is the most “democratic of substances,” a sign of our common humanity. Jane Shaw reminds us that none of us is immune from having shortcomings or making mistakes–and every one of us has access to the fullness of life to which God call us.

Another author, Frederick Buechner, says that most people think of eternal life as what happens to us when we die, when we’d be better off thinking of it as what happens when we really start living. What do you think—does remembering that you are dust—and will return to it—set you free to enter eternal life in the here and now? If not, what practices do you engage to help you remember that Jesus is offering real life, right now?

–Bishop Jeff Lee

During Lent, Bishop Lee will lead an online book discussion about A Practical Christianity by Jane Shaw. Learn more, and participate in the conversation on the blog or on Facebook.

14 thoughts on “A Practical Christianity: Chapter 1

  1. I’ve often thought that the prayer over the ashes (BCP 265) holds these two concepts together nicely: “Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortaility and penitence, that we may remember that it only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life…” In other words, remembering that we are “but dust” helps us remember that “eternal life” is a gift from God, not an achievement of our own.

  2. pg. 8, first paragraph: ways in which we try to escape our dust….
    This paragraph has haunted my thoughts all week. I have been thinking about my own ways
    I escape my dust, and which ways are delusional.
    It doesn’t have to be complicated….Jesus is quite clear about seeing things clearly.
    The road to His Father is a rough one, with many twists and turns, and it is through HIS love that we are able to shake of most of the dust, and because of His Forgiveness we can be assured that we are whole and loved by him.

  3. One way that I have tried to keep this perspective of “dust origins” has been to acknowledge my utter dependence on God for everything. Whatever and whoever I am, that is a gift from God. It works for me because it helps me to remember to be thankful, but it acknowledges also that there can be greatness in humaness.

  4. For the most part, the statement, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return,” is challenging to me. It reminds me that my time here on Earth is finite. What have I done to make myself worthy of eternal life? Have I done enough, or have I just frittered my time away on useless endeavors? As I come up on my mid-forties this year, I look to use my time more wisely. I’m challenged to lead a better life. Last Lent I learned the power of prayer and to allow God to lead in this dance that I call life. It was a very enriching experience, one which I will never forget. Maybe it’s my Roman Catholic upbringing, but I feel that it would be pretentious of me to say that I I can enter eternal life here and now while on Earth. I feel that it is something that I should always strive for, as I strive to follow the ways of Christ. But, until I return to dust, I will always be flawed. It sounds pretty pessimistic as I re-read it. As I look back on those times where I saw God’s hand in getting me through tough times, I guess I could say that I saw a glimpse of His promise of eternal life. And when He and I meet in my place of prayer, and I feel his presence, maybe I am in the doorway of eternal life here and now, looking in, wondering if I should step through.

  5. I am a thoroughly dusty creature. Thoroughly flawed and yet lovingly created by God from the same dust as everyone else. I really resonated with the author’s egalitarian nature of dust comments. This to me is a glimpse of eternal life in the here and now : God is calling us as Christians to prophesy new life into the dry dusty bones that lie all around us in the valley of this life. God doesn’t want us to wait until our bodies return to dust at the end of this life. Jesus wants us to testify to the healing power and love of his resurrection today. This day is worthy of eternal life as much as any day in heaven. That’s good news that begs to be shared!

  6. “…what pracices do you engage to help you remember that Jesus is offering real life, right now?”

    This Lent, my “morning mantra” is “May the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the communion of the holy Spirit be with me today.” Meaning: may I go through this day “gracefully” as Jesus did, mindful that I am loved by God, and accompanied by that loving Presence wherever I go and whatever I do.

  7. He querido compartir el inicio de varias conversaciones que se iniciaron el miércoles de ceniza. En San Marcos, Glen Ellyn, decidimos hacer dos cosas: Salir al encuentro en la estación del tran y Permanecer con las puertas abiertas en la parroquia. Estos dos signos permitieron que muchas personas iniciaran su comienzo de cuaresma desde lo que hacen todos los días y experimentaran la iglesia de una forma diferente, mas cercana. Don Pablo me dijo, después de recibir la ceniza “Gracias por acercarse a mi e invitarme a comenzar la cuaresma de forma distinta. Gracias por recordarme que Dios me ama como soy.” La conversación continua hasta este momento y se han abierto otras puertas…

  8. I came across a post in the God’s Politics blog on sojo.net, that I really like:


    There’s a reference to the “Ashes to go” activity here, and I feel like the author makes a good case for what I call “thinking outside the God box”, to foster a third ‘Great Awakening”. Interesting, at least to me! I think the institutional church is in for a big transformation, whether we like it or not.

    Discuss amongst yourselves. 🙂

    • Alan, I could not agree more. I don’t think we have any idea what form the Church will take over the next fifty years. Certainly by 2100 it will look vastly different. As a pretty institutional guy (as bishops are wont to be!) that used to worry me a lot. But I have been greatly helped by the “emergent conversation,” Phyllis Tickle, and others. We just need to stay solidly grounded in our faith, stay loose, and probably engage in a kind of “parallel development” while we tend to the Church as it is while encouraging new approaches, new voices, and new ways of “being Church” as we see them emerging all around us. Or, so it seems to me!

  9. My short answer to Bishop Lee’s question is “yes.”. Now, get ready for the long answer. For four months out of every year for 15 years, I have taught a course in death and dying. Because of this I think about the fact that we all can die at any moment quite a bit. Many dying people who have been interviewed say that they finally know how to live life. I think about something I call a “spiritual legacy.”. When I become physical dust, that is not all I leave behind on this Earth. I also leave behind whatever ways I have allowed the Holy Spirit to work through me for the good of other people, as well as the pain I have inflicted on others that was never reconciled. For me, having a sense that I will leave behind more good than pain is an experience of eternal life.

  10. To the younger ones :…keep an eye on the sale of Church properties and the very large Church Pension Fund..where will the money go???

    • Susan,

      I’m taken aback by what I perceive as cynicism. I would like to reply to you by telling you a story about a deacon in the early church. In the Roman Catholic tradition, he is known as St. Lawrence. The Prefect of Rome at the time, ordered him to relinquish the treasures of the church. Imagine the Prefects surprise when Lawrence brought a host of people, picked up from the streets of Rome and stated that they are the treasures of the Church. At the time, it was open season on Christians and St. Lawrence was executed. But the point is, we are the treasures of the church, not the property or the money. If you take it all away, you still have the people. If you don’t feel like you are a part of the Church’s treaasure then your religious leaders have failed you, and I am sorry for that. But, maybe this movement to bring the church to the streets is indicative of the Church realizing that.

  11. The St. Giles, Northbrook, Sunday Adult Forum began with a quote from Walter Kronkite, “For eons our planet has drifted through the universe. For a brief moment we have been its passengers.” Most felt that being dust is the bottom line and found that very comforting. Someone also said that feeling of being above the clouds in an airplane held a similar comfort. Someone also pointed out that in the discussion between the 99% and the 1%, dust is the equalizer.
    Someone also brought up the story of Jesus’ sending out his disciples and admonishing them to shake the dust from their feet and move on if their message was ejected. The point was made that the mere fact of having dust on their feet meant basic hospitality had not been observed. How rude!
    We finished with a discussion based on the question, “Is there a difference between the real life Jesus offers and the life that so many lead?” It was felt that the bottom line is that we need to recognize that God does everything. It is not about what a person knows, but what that person does for others.

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