We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 44.25-26)
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. The root of the word “human” comes from the word humus or soil. Humus is also the root for the word “humility.” To be humble is not to be self-deprecating, but to be grounded in our relationship with God and the earth.
This powerfully simple concept has lingered through the days, reminding me our 40-day journey is really a back-to-basics crash course. While human intellect drives us to romance complicated theories and ideas, Lent re-centers our thoughts toward a romance, if you will, with God. (If you’re not sure what this means, I highly recommend Claire’s daily posts at A Seat at the Table.)
Falling in love with God—whether for the first time or rekindling our relationship with Him—gives rise to a vivid understanding of all that He is and all we are not. It puts us back in touch with the raw clay of our making, our humus. The humility that results becomes an exhilarating experience by plunging us into incredulous marvel that He loves and cares about us at all. We are dust—common, everyday dirt with no ability or value of our own until God scoops us up, shapes our lives, and breathes our beings into existence. We have no promise of permanence. We’re unprotected, vulnerable to every wind that blows and every sweep of the cosmic broom. But when we yield our clay to His touch, He endows us with priceless power and potential. We become grounded. To borrow a phrase from Psalm 118, “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” How can we not fall head-over-heels in love such a giving and compassionate God?
Always Attentive and Responsive
My year began with a really nasty, painful ear infection. At first, I dismissed it as a minor inconvenience that would clear up in a day or so. But it worsened as the days wore on until I spent hours pacing the floor in pain. The first round of antibiotics seemed to fix things and I resumed my travels for work. Then the thing struck back with a vengeance. I curled up in agony in a Houston hotel room, talking to no one but Walt. Despite 1200 miles between us, he was ineffably there, always attentive and responsive. While I shook with fever, he orchestrated my care from afar. A doctor arrived, prescriptions were delivered, fees were paid, and once I returned home, everything to ease my recovery was ready and waiting. In our nearly 20 years together, I’ve been spared any prolonged, painful illness. So this was a new experience for me. I’ve never felt so humbled, because I’ve never felt so utterly helpless and tenderly loved in my adult life.
Head-on collisions with sudden illness, pervasive emotional pain, or mounting hardships infuse Psalm 44.25 with an extra ring of truth. “We are brought down to the dust,” the poet exclaims. “Our bodies cling to the ground.” Times will come when we’re laid low through none of our doing. They reacquaint us with our fragile vulnerabilities, which in turn make us feel totally inconsequential. As I lay shivering in my hotel room, I couldn’t escape the fact that my clients and team were carrying on perfectly well without me. And while that brought me much solace, it also heightened my sense of expendability. There’s nothing like being brought down to the dust to remind us we are dust. Then again, there’s nothing like being humbled to a place that forces us to rely on no one but our always attentive and responsive God. While we’re enduring our pain and fear, we may be too preoccupied to appreciate His ineffable presence and way of orchestrating our care from afar. But the closer we get to the end of our wilderness, the more amazed we become at the length and breadth of His tender love for us.
Feelings of helplessness are necessary to teach us we’re never helpless. Vulnerabilities to pain and hardship are given so we can learn we’re never unprotected. Psalm 46.1 declares, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” He builds Himself into a shelter for our dust. He remains our constant help to anchor us against tumultuous winds and sweeping troubles. Every particle of our being concerns Him and He treasures each one too highly for any to be lost. Being knocked to the ground by sickness, cruelty, and crisis gives us only one direction to look for help—up.
There are no further steps we can take. There is no one on Earth we can reach. We pray Psalm 44.26: “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.” Once again, God reaches down into the dust and scoops us up. His mighty hand brushes across time and space to recapture our lost pieces and particles. Like a sculptor mending a wounded masterpiece, He attentively restores our clay into the shape He originally gave us. He breathes new life and strength into us by His Spirit. Everything we need for total recovery is provided. Not until we’re completely whole do we fully understand: feeling helpless doesn’t make us humble. Discovering we’re never helpless does.
God reaches into the dust to reclaim our dust and restore us.
(Tomorrow: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over)
Postscript: My Help
A spectacularly moving musical version of Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help…” (KJV). “My Help” performed by the Central Church of God Choir in Charlotte, North Carolina.