Frail Children of Dust

From the moment I started thinking about Ash Wednesday this year, I have had one line of a hymn playing in my head:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I am in the grocery store, looking for my favorite brand of coffee, and suddenly I was humming the tune to which I only knew one line:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I am listening to someone speak, and as if from another realm, the line would be there between us:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I am sitting in a movie theater, engrossed in a dramatic moment that is suddenly interrupted my the incessant, insistent words:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

I’m talking with a friend about Ash Wednesday when the pursuing phrase catches me again:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

“Do you know where this line comes from?” I ask. “Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…?” My friend does what I should have done days before and Googled it.

It is from the hymn O Worship the King. The whole line is:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, 

In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.

Ash Wednesday invites reflection on both lines. We are frail children of dust. We hear the words spoken over us as we feel the sandy, ashen fingers trace first horizontal – “Remember, you are dust” – then vertical – “and to dust you shall return.”

When I am being honest, I know I am on my own a feeble husband and father and pastor. When I look at the world in which we live, I know so many of our efforts to bring about peace, to protect the vulnerable, to heal the broken, are feeble. Feeble are our attempts to secure ourselves, feeble the certitudes we hold so tightly, feeble the scrambling for power.

Ash Wednesday is the great day of truth-telling about ourselves and our world. We were born in dust, and to dust we shall return. So too all the things we cherish and clutch and covet – all of it is passing away as surely as we are.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail…

And yet…and yet…to forget, as I did, the next line, is to experience only part of the truth Ash Wednesday proclaims. Our discovery that we are frail children of dust and feeble as frail opens up a new world for us. It forces upon us the realization that although we are dust, we are beloved. It opens our eyes to the grace that molded us and breathed into us the breath of life. It shatters our illusions of self-sufficiency, our false certainties, our pretensions of power. It is a discovery that offers the chance for the thing that so often eludes us – trust.

Trust gives birth to humility. Trust gives birth to gratitude. Trust gives birth to love. Trust turns us from the deathly self-centeredness that threatens to undo us all. Trust turns us toward the Source of all that is, and toward one another. Trust makes me a better and more authentic husband and father and pastor. Trust imbues all our feeble efforts with humility, gratitude, and love, thereby giving those efforts a power beyond any they could conjure on their own.

I believe in the end Ash Wednesday is a day to renew our trust and thereby our lives. It is a day to remember:

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,

In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail.

May it be so.

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