Today, let’s celebrate dirt. Although we walk on dirt, drive on dirt, build on dirt, pave over dirt, move dirt, and even grow things in dirt, we often take dirt for granted. The very words “dirt” and “soil” can have negative connotations. If something is “dirty,” it is certainly not good. If something is “soiled,” it needs to be cleaned. Even as children we were probably taught to eschew dirt. If we did get dirty, we and our clothes had to be washed.
But Diana Butler Bass has written a beautiful book entitled Grounded: Finding God in the World. She devotes the first chapter to dirt. She reminds us that dirt is celebrated in scripture. In Genesis 2, God forms Adam from dirt or soil (in Hebrew adamah). Eve is formed from Adam’s side. Her name comes from the Hebrew havah, which means “to breathe” or “life.” Their names, then, link together Soil and Life. The whole story of the Hebrew Bible is that of land and its fruitfulness. Humans are disconnected to the land by sin or they are connected to the land by acts of faith and justice.
We need to renew our appreciation of dirt, of soil. Sadly, in today’s world we are experiencing a major crisis with regard to soil. Bass writes that soil is being lost “at an alarming rate all over the planet.” During the last 150 years, for example, earth has lost half its topsoil. In many place, formerly productive soil is now unusable. In addition, our planet loses approximately 25 million acres a year to erosion.
Agronomist Wes Jackson says that soil is not limitless. “Soil is as much a nonrenewable resource as oil.” Once soil is destroyed, it is “destroyed forever.” Says Bass, “The earth’s math is simple: no soil, no food, no us.”
This all may sound pretty depressing. But Bass points to another phenomenon that is
occurring all over the world: “more and more people are returning to the ground.” In doing research on a wide spectrum of churches, she was amazed to find how many congregations now have gardens. They are raising food for charity, to ease their budgets, to renew the land, or just for the fun of it. One congregation, for example, purchased a neglected piece of property in the inner city and established a garden. In fact, they decided not build a conventional church, for the garden will be their church. Vegetable beds will surround their Communion table. A greenhouse will serve as their worship place when it rains.
And it’s not just Churches who are growing gardens. Cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland have all started major urban farming programs aimed at reclaiming blighted neighborhoods while providing both healthy food and local jobs. This growth in gardens is seen even on a smaller scale. The National Garden Association reports that one in three households in the U.S. is now growing food, a rise of 17 percent from 2008 to 20013.
Bass’ book Grounded cites other authorities on the subject of soil. She quotes Fred Bahnson, founder of a community garden in North Carolina, who calls the soil “a sacrament.” Bahnson adds, “There is an entire ecosystem in a handful of soil: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms. Through their breeding and dying such creatures vivify the world.” His description recalled those times I saw my father scoop up a handful of freshly plowed soil and smell it. I soon followed his good example. To this day I will occasionally bend over and scoop up some moist dirt and smell it. Mmmm! There’s no other smell quite like it.
The writer Sallie McFague, described as an American feminist Christian theologian, raises this thought-provoking question: “What if we saw the earth as part of the body of God, not as separate from God (who dwells elsewhere), but as the visible reality of the invisible God?” Says Bass, if we did “we would be both more responsible toward the soil and more aware of God-with-us.”
What is your attitude toward dirt, toward soil? Do you have any childhood memories that involve dirt or soil?
Do you do any gardening? If so what do you grow? Why? If you grow vegetables, what do you do with them?
Does your church have a garden? Does your city have community gardens?
Here are two videos of the same song called “Love Song to the Earth.” It features a number of singers including Paul McCartney, Sean Paul, Natasha Bedingfield, and others. The first is the official music video. The second one has the lyrics plus images of beautiful planet earth. I love both versions!
Here is the version with the lyrics:
Do you wish to respond to this reflection and/or the song?