Third Sunday in Advent: Dust
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
I live in the desert Southwest. Vegetation is sparse and high winds are frequent. When wind howls across the mesas and sweeps through the valleys, it kicks up great billowing clouds of dust. Those who go outdoors on windy days get dust in their eyes and grit in their mouths.
The dust storms in this area remind me of stories my mother told me of her childhood in Kansas during the Dust Bowl days. She remembered one storm in particular that turned the sky black as night at noon. Dust sifted into their ramshackle farmhouse as if there were no walls or windows or doors. When the storm finally subsided, the inside of the house was covered with a half-inch-thick layer of soil. I imagined what it would be like to plant corn on the kitchen table or to wake up the next morning to find wheat sprouting on the bed covers.
Dust is unstable stuff, and the psalmist says that we are dust. No one is exempt. You are dust. I am dust. Everyone is dust.
I see the “dustiness” of humanity daily in my classroom. My students are dust when they chatter incessantly, despite repeated reminders to ask permission to speak. They are dust when they taunt each other and call each other derogatory names. They are dust when they fail to do their homework and then give me lame excuses for not turning it in. They are dust when they jump out of their seats and sharpen pencils while I am teaching.
I see my own “dustiness” when I become short-tempered with my students and growl at them. I am dust when I try to do too much in the course of a day and then fall asleep at 8 p.m., exhausted. I am dust when I roll my eyes at a colleague’s misuse of a word. And I am dust when I think of myself as “better” than those teachers who don’t have a paper recycling box in their classrooms as I do; instead, they toss their wastepaper into the trashcan—the first stop on the way to an already crowded landfill.
Fortunately, God doesn’t despise my “dustiness” or that of my students. Instead, God takes compassion on us in our weakness. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities,” the psalmist says. God never forgets that we are dust, and God never fails to take our weakness into account.
What would happen if I remembered that my students are dust? What would happen if I dealt with my students according to their gifts and not according to their sins? What would happen if I really got to know my students and focused on their strengths instead of their weaknesses?
During Advent, the Spirit invites me to reflect on these questions and to formulate answers that will bring peace and harmony to my classroom all year long.