Ashes to Ashes, Stardust to Stardust
The Climate Change March on September 21 intends to be the largest one in American History. I have so many hopes for the march that I hope I won’t sink it! I hope for a huge new investment in renewable energies and a cessation of investment in the dead ways. I hope for a resacralization of the desacralized, which includes the shale and the seeds, the water and the air and you and me. I hope Americans will come to see our place in nature as much as now see our place in history. And I also hope for a renewal of the way we die, right down to the words we use.
Consider one example of change that comprehends the entire agenda above. I’ve been saying “Ashes to Ashes, Stardust to Stardust” at funerals I officiate for the last year or so. I have been astonished at the response. It is pervasively positive. The language just slipped out of me after I watched Carl Sagan’s show Cosmos light up the night sky. Cosmos reminds us that everybody who ever was is already up there overhead, blinking. When we die, we become a star. Why use the word “dust” when “stardust” binds our genome to a biological evolving eternity? Why frack when we can use sun or wind? Why stop when you can continue, even if in another form or way?
A renewable and renewing imagination need not start with the material, although God knows we have to do something about how gassy we have become. It can also start with spiritual practice and spiritual language. Spiritual practices are more like solar energy than anything else. They shine. They are an energy that creates more energy. Like solar, many people think they can’t afford the long-term investment. Thus we stick to electricity or Lent or Sundays or candles. And of course, these spiritual surrogates are terribly, dangerously fragile. They are lightweights in a time when we need weight bearing spiritual practices. Those who can’t pray or renew or see will find somehow that they wish they had thanked or relaxed or seen. Those who think they die as dust will soon realize how much more fun it is to die as stardust. Plus, dying is one of the greenest activities of all. We recycle and compost our very selves
Prayer and meditation are emphatically renewable energy. They change us. They also change the Way of us, our habitat, our soil, our environment, our cosmos. Similarly, changing the language of a memorial is a spiritual practice. In changing the spiritual, we give the material a way to change. Spiritual practices are things that people use to be spiritual. They practice, as in rehearse, the way we want to be and reflect the best way that we are. The words “Best practices” don’t apply only to the workplace.
A spiritual practice is a deepening of the always and the everyday. It is washing the dishes as though you liked to or flossing your teeth as though you loved your teeth, rather than just keeping the dentist from guilt tripping you. A spiritual practice is also pretty much anything that tussles with the pragmatic and takes pragmatism into something deeper than its obvious and worthy utility. Watch out dust. You are on your way out.
Practice is not the opposite of pragmatic so much as its underwear, what you wear close to your skin. Spiritual practice knows what ashes to ashes, stardust-to-stardust means.
Lots of people turn spiritual practices into confections. They are not confections. They are defections, when we disrupt the normal absurdities on behalf of the deeper absurdities. In those deeper absurdities, truth is lurking, with a patch on its eye. Or a star’s twinkle, high above us.
Maybe my hopes for September 21 are too small, not too big, especially if the energy we need is right here in prayer and in the stardust.