We Are Stardust
Readers of this blog will be well aware that they are stardust. They might even
remember when, where, and from whom they first learned that fact — or truly realized it. For many of us, the news was revolutionary. Talk about a paradigm shift!
As far as I can discover, few suspected this fact prior to 1929, when Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley remarked that “humans are made of the same stuff as the stars.” Three decades later, scientists showed that the atoms of which we are made are not only the same as those in stars; the atoms that comprise our “stuff” were actually created inside stars! No wonder gazing at stars can have such a profound effect on us! No wonder we sometimes really feel that we are one with all creation!
Also awesome is the realization that we become star stuff by way of Earth. When Christians are asked on Ash Wednesday to remember that they are dust, they can remember the Genesis story of how God took Earth’s clay/ humus to form the first humans. They can also remember that human evolution dates back not just to the very beginnings of our Earth, but all the way back to stars!
Traditionally, on Ash Wednesday Christians flock to Church to begin Lent by receiving a sign of the cross on their foreheads. Originally called “Day of Ashes,” this custom had begun by the 8th century. Many Scripture references, primarily in the Hebrew Scripture, tell of repentant people putting on “ashes and sackcloth.” Ashes were originally sprinkled on the head rather than marked on the forehead. The ashes are a reminder of our sinfulness and mortality; the sign of the cross reminds us of Jesus’ forgiveness of sinners.
The ashes come from the burned palms used the year before on Palm Sunday. People are usually happy to get a good black smear to prove that they appreciate the symbolism of this sacramental — even if we didn’t exactly come from ashes.
Stardust Wednesday Ritual
The following ritual is not intended as competition for the usual Ash Wednesday practice. It is suggested as supplemental to the traditional ashes ceremony, or as an alternative for anyone who would not otherwise participate in anything. A two-sided copy of just the ritual is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizer(s) and/or those participating: Adapt the following ritual in any way that will make it more useful. (Send suggestions to email@example.com.) Decide how much to use, music, and readings. You might want to be creative with sparklers or glitter. If wanted, plan refreshments.
Begin together: May the Divine Power living and acting within us deepen our wonder and appreciation of the fact that we are made of stardust!
Music: Sing or say the lyrics for “Born of a Star” from We Are the Land We Sing, Carolyn McDade: http://www.catholicmusic.us/carolyn-mcdade-cds.aspx
Born of a Star
Return to the darkness, return
this longest night of wonder Return
Return to the dream, return
this holy night to ponder
Deep in the night, listen
Turn to the light
Deep in the night turn to the light Waken to Sun’s ancient summons ~
we who are born of a star who then are we?
we who are loved by a star who then love we?
We who are born of a star who then are we?
Reading(s): (Select one or more)
• from Radical Amazement, Judy Cannato: The massive star that was mother to our Sun met with fiery death, her form completely annihilated be the explosive force of the blast. And yet she exists in each of us, in the cells of our bodies that are composed of her dust. Consciously or not, we carry her within us as surely as we carry the DNA of our biological parents [and ancestors].
• from The Cosmic Dance, Joyce Rupp: Our planet Earth was once a dancing star, evolving over four and a half billion years ago from the many elements of a colliding supernova. I have loved knowing that we are “made of stardust” as Brian Swimme and other poetic cosmologists tell us. I like knowing that the composition of my body has the elements of a star that was once brilliantly aglow in the universe and is now dancing in me. There’s a magical sense of connection that comes from this knowledge . . . .
• from Once Upon a Universe, Pat Bergen, CSJ/Ministry of the Arts: When our Milky Way was 5 billion years old, a [later] generation star was coming to the end of her life. This grand old star collapsed in on herself and then exploded in a blast as fierce and brilliant as a million stars. It was our grandmother supernova! Her death gave birth to hundreds of new, more complex elements — carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, magnesium . . . “stardust” flung far out into space. Gravity again went to work and drew the dust back into a hot, dense center. And voila! Our glorious Sun star ignited! The rest of the stardust gathered into 8 fiery planets of molten rock and gases, dancing with their moons in orbits around the Sun. Thus were born [what became] our home planet Earth, our moon, our great generous Sun, . . . our whole solar system.
Sharing: What connection(s) do you find between this story and the stories of Jesus that we ponder during Lent and Easter?
Intentions: Reply is “We are grateful.”
– for the Spirit present within the creative process of creation and within each of us, We are grateful.
– for the generations of supernovas that exploded, resulting in stars with increasingly heavier elements, eventually leading to the supernova that resulted in our solar system and galaxy,
– for Sister Dirt, because of whom we can enjoy food, flowers, plants clean air, shade, and revelations of the divine,
– for farmers who till the soil, especially our local farmers who do it organically using fair trade practices,
– for the scientists, theologians, thinkers, writers, speakers and artists who have helped us realize our place in creation — [Pause to quietly remember one or two who have helped you. Name them if you wish],
– for those present and throughout the world committed to creating a flourishing Earth,
Blessing: Join in 2’s or 3’s. Allow a few moments for people to think of a prayer for their partner(s). Then, in turn, each extends hands over (or on) the other’s head and says a blessing, wish, or thanksgiving. (E.g., John, may God’s loving Spirit deepen our awareness that all creation is one. Pat, thank you for bringing your starlight into my life. Al, I bless you and the star-stuff you invest in caring for creation.)