Hidden in the Dust

Lookout Mountain TN postcard Chattanooga

Anyone ever looked out from Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee? It’s the southwestern-most ridge of the Appalachians, about the same latitude as the southern end of the Appalachian Trail.

You look down on the Tennessee River winding its way through the valley below. Dramatic history lies hidden in the soil, so to speak.

Like the decisive military action of the Civil War. The Confederates had put the Federal Army of the Cumberland on its heels here, in the fall of 1863. The Union soldiers in Chattanooga were cut-off and starving. But General Ulysses Grant found a way to get supplies into the besieged city, by stealth and stratagem.

The Union troops survived, and then marched toward Atlanta.

Or, buried even deeper in the dust of the valley: the archaeological remnants of other ancient civilizations that once lived and thrived here. There’s a simple memorial to the Cherokee Trail of Tears in downtown Chattanooga: A set of stone steps that leads… into the river.

Cherokee John Ross
Cherokee leader John Ross

Remember, man, that you are dust.

All this history, and more, lies hidden in the dust, so to speak, of one Appalachian valley. What lies hidden in us? In the dust that we are?

For our sake God made His Christ to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

What lies hidden in our mortal flesh? Nothing less than this: the eternal God has called us to be His beloved children forever. We have a vocation unto undying life, the unending life of God’s powerful love. This mystery of life lies hidden in our now-mortal flesh.

Which means we have a Passover to celebrate. Our brother in this mortal flesh, Jesus Christ, has passed over from the valley of tears into the Kingdom of Light. Our life makes sense when we recognize it as a pilgrimage towards that Passover, Christ’s Passover.

In fact, that’s the only way that human life makes sense. Without Christ, we die meaninglessly on a big rock hurtling around a minor star in a vast, empty universe. With Christ: we march toward life. In Him, God Himself accepted our human death, in order to turn death into a door. The door that leads to the everlasting life of God.

So let’s prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s Passover. It’s in… how many days? Let’s pray, fast, and give alms in secret for forty days. Because what lies hidden in this mortal dust of ours is: life.

4 thoughts on “Hidden in the Dust

  1. Grant was leading battles in a war fought to end slavery. Slaves in the American South had no hope but Christ. Imagine it: no hope. absolutely no hope for this life, save Christ alone. We really have no idea how that would be. Most of us — if we’re willing to admit it — make Christ something of an add-on to our other sources of hope. Studying the lives of those slaves and the nature of their hope in Christ could make a useful Lenten project.

  2. Fr. Mark and Ann,

    After reading your Lenten Message and your Mother’s response, I am stilled and breathless.

    Thank You!


  3. Thank you… And Ann too.

    About that last phrase: We can fast in secret (if we don’t live with someone). Giving alms in secret is a little harder, as is prayer. How do we pray in secret when there are always people around, and they are always watching and judging, we can’t go to a quiet empty church because the doors are locked, or it’s too far away, or the times when the church is quiet are not the times when we can sneak away. Clearly I am not starting off well in this Lenten season. I guess I can look at it as plenty of room for improvement. Maybe I will do what Ann recommended and spend my Lent reflecting on those who have it tougher than I do.

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