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February 10, 2021

Divine and Dusty: Embodied Prayers for Lent

Written by: Julia Smolucha

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

South African anti-apartheid theologian David Bosch called the church “divine and dusty,” an evocative turn of phrase that stuck with me.[1] Lent is a “divine and dusty” time. It begins with ash, remembering and reshaping our intimate connection to the fertile earth, dusty, dirt-y, down-to-earth, natural, and unpretentious. Lent ends with the mystery of the divine-and-dusty Jesus whose holy humility led him to willingly walk straight into the hands of the powers-that-be for the sake of those he loves, especially the vulnerable, unnoticed, tender, overlooked people of God. “Divine and dusty” weds us to our own eternal hope to “do justice, love kindness and do justice,” and challenges us to live in line with who we say we are: Christ’s own. “Divine and dusty” reorients us to the intimacy of God’s breath within us, animating every aspect of life. “Divine and dusty” sums up our task as a community: to acknowledge and await expectantly the presence of God in the ordinary, everyday, embodied, heart-and-soul of our very lives. “Divine and dusty” is the mystery of life, even within the sorrow, trouble, suffering, harm, vulnerability and fragility under which we daily labor.

So for this dusty season of Lent, I have chosen a poem a day that connects us to that “divine and dusty” part of who we are, to accompany a scripture passage from the weekly lectionary. The blessings, that accompany the scripture and poetry, are my attempt to knit together the two, letting the language of word and wisdom intermingle and become an embodied prayer, itself divine and dusty.

Thank you for continuing to welcome these daily blessings into your inbox, and I look forward to seeing you all when I return from sabbatical in March.

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[1]  Bosch was a white theologian in South Africa during apartheid whose first act of resistance to the culturally embedded and legally sustained system of white supremacy was to shrug off his invitation to the elite (read white) Broederbond or “league of brothers” not dissimilar to the KKK in the United States. Because of their political and economic power, refusing to join the Broederbond meant that he was denied employment opportunities and it set him against the powers-that-be for the rest of his life. He was posthumously honored by the President of South Africa in 2013, “for his selfless struggle for equality in segregated churches and society in general and his dedication to community upliftment. By doing so, he lived the values of non-racialism against the mainstream of his own culture.”

Knowing this about Bosch, I sense the urgency of his claims about the church, which he says is “susceptible to all human frailties.” So when he says, “we now recognize that the church is both a theological and sociological entity, an inseparable union of the divine and the dusty…the incorruptible Body of Christ on earth,” I hear the voice of a man who witnessed the church, especially the mid-nineteenth century white church in South Africa in which he was raised, as an impossible, unlikely, regrettable partner to the powers-that-be upholding a system of injustice, and yet who continues to have deep trust that God will guide the church toward an embodied holiness and justice.