And Shall Return

Mediate on the meaning of today with this song from The Brilliance

Just this past Saturday, I was driving down I-5 North with tears streaming down my face. I was on my way home from visiting a college I’m considering getting my PhD from. The song that was on my radio was Hillsong UNITED’s Desert Song. The lyrics primarily surround the seasons in our life in which nothing is going our way. The psalmist contemplates the desert which leaves her wanting, the fire which tries her, and the battle which leaves her weary and ready for victory. It is, in this way, particularly featured on my life soundtrack when I feel abandoned by God and thrown into the mouth of my enemies. But I wasn’t crying because I have been left by God; I was crying because I have been fulfilled by God.

I have been seen through the desert of poverty that comes with starting out in adulthood. I’ve been relinquished from the fire of doubt and fear of soaring into the unknown. I’ve been victorious over the voices of former bosses and friends who have spoken lies into my life, slandering my sense of purpose and my innate goodness. And I will be returned to those seasons soon. The lyric that kept coming back to me, that I kept chewing on and mediating with, was:

And this is my prayer in the harvest

When favor and providence flow

I know I’m filled to be emptied again

This seed I’ve received I will sow

Hillsong UNITED  © Capitol Christian Music Group

Those last two lines are what was striking me. Even in her brief season of joy, she is focused on the suffering. Even on the mountain, she stares knowingly into the valley’s dark edges. And, sure, it fits thematically. The song is ultimately about that tension between the horror of the world and the unrelenting, tenacious praising of God’s name. She is not blind to what’s coming, even in her moment of harvest. She reminds me a lot of King Solomon in his book Ecclesiastes:

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20; 22 NIV
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the time in the year of the church in which we fast and reflect on repentance and reorientation to the Holy Way of doing things. It marks the season of lent, a time when many siblings give up social media, sugar, or other worldly pleasures in order to make more time for God and the words the Author holds for us. On Ash Wednesday, Christians are marked with ash, remnants from the prior year’s Palm Sunday palm branches. It is a tangible reminder of what we are first told in Genesis, and echoed in the above Ecclesiastes passage: we come from dust and we shall return to dust.

God first issues this command during the Fall of Humankind, after Adam and Eve have tasted the forbidden fruit. Due to the Original Sin, we have been damned back to the dust we were spun from, rather than enjoy the lush garden for perpetuity. We are, however, no longer stuck in the eternity of damnation, thanks to the coming of Christ, and his ultimate sacrifice upon the cross. In six weeks, we will celebrate by throwing off our grave clothes, indulging in feasts, and breaking our fasts. We will enter the Kingdom of Heaven with the Risen King. And then, in a few short months, we will again enter into the season of ash.

I was crying because, yes, I had seen the goodness of God, but also because I knew this was not the end of the story. It may come across as depressing and hopeless to contextualize my joy only via the impending shadow of gloom and depravity. I can understand and appreciate that. But to me, my dear friends, it is beautiful.

If my joy is temporary, I know my pain will be too. If my pain is temporary, my joy will be too. All of it is returned eventually.

If my pain is coming, it makes this season of joy that much sweeter. I know to rest in it, to store up the fruit from the harvest. I am aware that this joy is not earned but given and that is what makes it such a beautiful gift.

All of Christian life is cyclical. We mourn and we cheer. We feast and fast. We win and lose. And in the end, none of it matters, for we are returned to the dust we were born into. It takes the pressure off a bit, for me.

Rest in the dust, you children of ash and bone. Still that soul of yours. Let all of it go for this one day. Sing the glories upon the face of God. Ask the Healer to make you whole. Trust in the cycle of dust to dust, in the meaninglessness of it. In the ashiness of it. In the beauty of contextualizing our now with our later. Our joy by our pain.

Be still my soul and let it go, just let it go. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest. Be still my soul. Lord, make me whole. Lord, make me whole. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest. Amen.


For more on seasons, read our Christmas reflection.

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