Dust in the Wind

by Rebecca Lynne Fullan

I respond to this week’s readings with passionate ambivalence. Ambivalence, I sometimes tell my students, is when you feel so strongly about both sides that you look like you are just standing still. The experience, though, is like being buffeted by strong winds from both directions, and feeling with bewilderment that you are standing in a storm but cannot move.

The first reading is a blast of wind—Paul and Barnabas wrenching a promise away from “the Jews” and holding it out to “the Gentiles.” Now, I realize this is supposed to be exciting– a new and radical offer of inclusion in God’s circle—but from where I am standing, looking back through centuries of terrifying, shameful anti-Semitism, it’s the exclusion that sticks out. Continuing through the story, the image of shaking dust off one’s feet is so dreadful in its finality and impossibility. I cannot shake the dust off—cannot erase where I’ve been as though it never happened. It’s a symbolic rejection so thorough that it makes my dusty skin crawl. At the same time, I can sympathize with the impulse—something has gone so wrong that you just want to get it off you.

Paul and Barnabas wanted to shake the dust of the place that had mistreated them off their feet, thereby eradicating its influence, and instead a cloud of dust helped to blind generations of Christians to the fact that cruelty to anybody is cruelty to you own body, your own kin. The dust blinds the man who rhythmically and loudly denigrates other religions on the subway, as though it really is in the crushing of other beliefs that Christianity grows strong, not seeing that from crushing beliefs to crushing believers is a small and well-worn step. It blinds the foolish men who have connected sexual abuse with a homosexual orientation. Its blindness is the seductive promise held out to the sexual abused and abuser both—come to this new place, shake the dust off, keep your mouth closed, watch it fly away.

Painfully, angrily, honestly, those who have been abused are telling us: It did not fly away. I shook and shook, brushed and brushed at my shoes. It did not go. Sometimes it rose up and blinded me to the beauty of my body, to my lack of culpability in this. Blinded me, perhaps, to the possibility of God without violation blocking the way. But it has not been shaken off.

And do you suppose it has worked for the abusers? Think of your most furtive moments of sexuality—the ones that suddenly grip you like a fist, by which you are quite, quite consumed, and it is all need, and a startling inside violence, and a lack of joy. Have you tried to shake these moments off? Do they easily go? I do not say this to equate the more disturbing moments of relatively healthy sexuality with doing violent harm to another, but it is clear to me that abusers, too, walk with dusty shoes no matter how high the polish.

And yet—and yet—is that the end of these stories? In my insistence on the dust that remains, am I cutting off the hope of healing? The second reading and the gospel push me from the other side, with dazzling (and strange) visions of unity and care. Revelations shows us this crazy pulsing party of wildly diverse people in the throes of mad and lovely reversals—no hunger! No thirst! No heat! Tears gently wiped by God! Lamb as shepherd! And John’s bite-sized gospel settles things: the sheep and Jesus and the Father are all wrapped up in mutual knowing, with no chance of loss. Did you catch that? No chance of loss, not a whisper of it. “No one can take them out of my hand.”

That’s a wind in its own right, that is. And when I see the incredible beauty of flowering trees, of tulips, of lilacs—when I stretch my arms wide and lay my face against a tree—when the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary comes dancing into my ears, carried by love from my mother, who bought me the CD, and Charlotte, who bought me the speakers—at those moments I do feel hope, and more, I feel God, right down to my dusty soul. I feel that the promises of John and John’s Jesus are more than possible. I feel they are present.

And yet—and yet—the storm has not lifted. The desolation of dust storms sweeps over me and I am scoured and stung. I feel it in every word written lately on this blog. At the Easter Vigil this year someone yelled out in the back, “Shame on you for allowing the molestation of children.” And then we sang the Gloria. In that moment, in this moment, in the readings for today, I am standing between two strong winds. I am so ambivalent I could ignite withal.

Jesus? I seek the way where there is no-way. I’ve heard it’s you, but damned, damned if it isn’t hard to know which way to move, or how to stand it, or what it is I’m standing for. Send me another tulip, my love, and a heart as strong as sunlight, before I have to move from this spot. Before the dust around me rises high.

Rebecca Lynne Fullan’s heart flows on in endless song, but she admits that storms can shake her inmost calm. She wants to give the preceding movement of her song to any who have suffered at the hands of those they trusted.

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One Response

  1. Thank you, Rebecca, for this thoughtful and moving piece. I’m inspired to consider my own conversion and pray for the continual conversion of those who have abused. In the Benedictine tradition, “conversio morum” points to the continual choices that bring us to life more united with Christ. Personally, I’ve had a long way to go, to recover from the abuses I’ve both suffered and perpetuated, so it’s a relief (and challenge) to see signs in Scripture and song that while ‘dust’ can constitute our very being, we are called to the promise of Revelation. Let us pray, together with Meister Eckhart–himself censured for exhorting us to tell our stories truthfully–for the strength to acknowledge our sins and the wisdom to see where they lead us.

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