Last year, Ash Wednesday landed on a day many of us consider to be the most saccharine and the least “ashy”of all feast days, Valentine's Day.
Like most songwriters, I see paradox as a great cowriting partner, so I wrote a song sitting in the tension between such apparently contrasting days, called When Love Meets Dust. Then at the end of the 40 days of Lent, somehow magically, Easter Sunday landed on April Fool’s Day, so I wrote a song called Holy Fool.
2018 was a lot of things, but those serendipitous expressions in the calendar were fun to play with.
Having entered into Lent now in 2019, I thought I would share the song When Love Meets Dust, which in part was influenced by Fr Ron Rolheiser’s book Holy Longing.
Holy Longing suggests that there really is only one flame and that in the spiritual journey, “getting burned” is really what happens when aspects of our false selves fall away through life’s descents.
Belden Lane has called this a "misplaced yearning".
The verses in the song When Love Meets Dust are really just different aspects of each one of us, although they are also respectively inspired by: Janis Joplin, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, who Ron Rolheiser illustrates with, in his book.
I hope it is clear that when I wrote the verses, I wasn’t using Janis, Diana and Mother Teresa as some cheap polemic for chastity and “being good” (and neither was Fr Ron in his book!). It is about seeing the immensely beautiful, heart-wrenching, holy longing in the rebel, in the noble princess and in the “nobody”.
If I’m honest, I relate most to Janis.
There is a story from the teachings of the desert Abbas and Ammas, that Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
Along the journey of descent, there is a point where the flame doesn’t burn you anymore, because you have realized that your own fire, and the great Flame, are one.
This idea that all fire comes from the same place, but only burns us or others if we are in our ego state, or false self state, is a remarkable way to reconstruct our idea of hell. In the chorus, the line “it can destroy or it can trust, but it’s what happens when love meets dust” is to say that the literal energy, the building blocks of life, can also be inverted to destroy life (think of atomic energy).
Finally, because I’ve been speaking mostly about flame, or love, it is important to also mark our earthiness. We airy “spirituals” don’t do that enough. We don’t often willingly go into the bear cave and feel the damp womb of earthly discomfort. We don't lie naked in the soil, with the sun greening us like nettles, because we feel safer in the esoteric, or at the very least, in the theologic.
But don't worry! Cosmos is tied to dust. You and I, all of this, originated in the heart of a star. So it comes full circle, anyway.
It is at this point, where stardust meets soil, that I want to make a very special mention to the very recent death of Australian Eco-theologian Fr Denis Edwards, whose book Jesus and the Cosmos deeply influenced my album Behold, I Make All Things New. His ability to hold the earth and the cosmos in balance through seeing the whole of reality as incarnate, was remarkable. I mentioned him briefly last week in the final paragraph of my reflection and just a few days later, I saw it announced that he had passed.
Denis and I communicated a few times via email, when Behold, I Make All Things New came out, and I was honoured to know he heard the level at which I wanted to deliver that project, because he said:
"Behold, I Make all Things New sings of the Love that is at the heart of everything. The galaxies and stars, the animals and trees of Earth. The album tells of the Love come to us in an unthinkable way in Jesus, and celebrates the transformation already at work in new creation. I have always loved those words: "behold, I make all things new", now I hear them in your voice."
His life and work will always mean a great deal to me. His fidelity to seeing the incarnation in Earth and the Cosmos changed me forever. It is my prayer that folks who write down books I mention will spend time with Denis Edward’s work. He truly was a man who saw Christ in all things… he had the eyes to see… where love meets dust.
This one's for you, Denis.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.