2020 was a challenging year to say the least. For others, it was filled with moments that seemed to crawl by. For some, moments flew by unnoticed. One of these moments flew higher than most of us were aware of. A mile above our heads to be exact. The “moment” is more like a week of moments, the week of June 21st, 2020. This week has so much to teach us about restoration and God’s work amongst creation.
The latter half of June was interrupted by the Saharan Air Layer, a cloud of dust making its way across the Atlantic Ocean from the Saharan Desert. The dust cloud made landfall setting records for the most dusty day since July 31, 2013. The sky turned a milky greyish white color. The sun was covered in a mysterious haze. Most of us in the United States were worried about breathing hazards and visibility concerns. Dust is rather annoying. However, we read in Genesis 2:7, dust is life.
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. - Genesis 2:7 NRSV
This dust is formed in an area of Chad in north central Africa in a long dry lake bed known as the Bodélé Depression. Lake Chad was once a great lake, about the size of Lake Erie. As the climate shifted and water demands grew the lake level fell. Of course the sand and dust left behind is at the mercy of the howling wind. The lake was not an empty vat of water however. Life flourished beneath its waters and as the water fell, so did fish and plant life. These once living members of the ecosystem are now calloused into the dry, dusty landscape. As the winds whip up dust it also takes tiny particles of these fish. This mineral rich dust then begins its journey halfway across the globe riding on the wind.
These tiny specks of dust contain phosphorus which is an essential mineral that plants need to thrive. Without phosphorus terrestrial landscapes would lack the resources they need to thrive year after year. The Amazon Basin in particular needs an enormous amount of phosphorus to nourish its densely packed rainforest. The dust from the Sahara Desert makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean and is deposited into the Amazon Rainforest where it is essential to the sustained life of the forest.
Even in death, God sustains life. The Sahara is a barren wasteland in many ways. However, that death brings about life on the other side of the planet. God is doing a reconciling work in each of us. But it is so much more than that. God is reconciling and restoring all of creation. Unnoticed by the general population, dust flies over our heads on its way to provide life to one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. The death of the Bodélé Depression is not final. In a sanctifying way, it brings life to the world.
In 2 Corinthians we read of the reconciling work of God.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see,
everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself
through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God
was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and
entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NRSV
God does not hold our dusty pasts against us but rather transforms our dust covered bodies into a new oasis of life. We are to go and do likewise, participating in the transformation of our world. We allow the transformative power of God to change us from the inside out. It is only because we have experienced this transformation that we can participate in the life bringing power of God. We are invited to participate with God in the reconciliation of all creation as agents partnering with God to breathe life out of the dust and create something new. When you see that milky haze across the sky or cough on a bit of wind blown dust, may you remember the resurrection power and its invitation for all of creation.
Rev. Makayla Johnson lives and pastors in Central Texas with her husband Caleb. She is currently working toward a M.A. in Sustainability Studies and blends this with her Pastoral Ministry B.S. to share her deep love for creation with those around her.
Okin, Gregory S., et al. "Impact of desert dust on the biogeochemistry of phosphorus in terrestrial ecosystems." Global Biogeochemical Cycles 18.2 (2004).