Lenten Devotions 





You are dust, to dust you shall return.

As the ash of palm leaves smear our foreheads, we hear these words. They harken back to Genesis 2:7, where we are told that God formed humans from "the dust of the ground" (Hebrew, adamah; where we get "Adam"). We are told that from which we came, we will return. To dirt, to dust.

It is a humbling message. Here, we recognize the limitations of this life. The word for humility actually derives from the word humus, meaning "earth." Many keen interpreters have rightly translated "humility" as "being grounded." Lent is all about practicing humility, groundedness.

This Lent we are entering the world of the desert monastics, Christian hermits of the 4th and 5th century who sought God in the Egyptian desert. We will listen to their stories, ponder their sayings. They teach us, foremost, humility. Some say that the Desert Mothers and Fathers are some of the best interpreters and practitioners of the Jesus way.

Each day you will receive a devotion with a desert saying and a scripture passage-with some short commentary. You will be invited to consider these often strange and difficult, but always helpful sayings. Spend time wrestling with their words. Spend some time in prayer. 



Abba Poemen said, "A brother asked Alonius, 'What is humility?' The hermit said, 'To be lower than brute beasts and to know that they are not condemned.'"

Jesus said, "For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." (Luke 22:27)

Do you exist in a hierarchy? In your job, do you rank above or below others? Do you place yourself within some socio-economic status? Do you consider yourself better or worse than others in a certain skill?

Society and sociality places us within certain hierarchies. Much of the time, this kind of order is helpful. The issue is if we internalize it. Do we believe ourselves to be better or worse by virtue of the position we hold?

Jesus struggled against this. His disciples fought with one another over who was the best or greatest of Jesus' disciples. Jesus' teachings were often opposed to people who held that children, Samaritans, women, lepers, among others were lesser humans based on their social status. In response, Jesus turned the hierarchies upside down: the servant shall be served, the last shall be first.

The desert monastics thought this was the key to the spiritual life. In a world that places people on a spectrum of better to worst, highest to lowest, the Christian should consider themselves the lowest. These desert hermits fled from a world that measured them by wealth and skill to seek their status before God. Like the words of Scripture, they encouraged: "consider others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3), come to serve and not be served, and understand yourself as "lower than the brute beasts." All of this is to say that human ranking is ridiculous. We are all human beings, no one better than anyone else.

We are human beings, from dust and to dust we will return. The thing is, God does a lot with dirt and dust. God formed it and breathed life into it-making it human. God will take the dirt and dust of this world and make it worthy of love.


God of our making: Confront us with your holiness, that we might be humbled. Forgive us our constant efforts to prove we are better than others. Forgive us our judgments, as we put down others around us. This day, let us serve rather than be served. Let us look to those who have been humbled and raise them up. Help us realize we are nothing but dirt and dust, if not by your grace. Amen.

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