People of the Soil
If you grew up in the city like I did, you might not have much affection for soil—or “dirt,” as my mother would have called it.
“Don’t you track those dirty shoes across my nice clean carpet,” I would hear as I came inside after poking around outdoors.
Of course, I didn’t go outdoors very often. It was too hot in Houston, Texas, for much tromping around outside, and the only soil that I knew about was the hard, sun-baked clay underneath the prickly St. Augustine grass in my backyard. I tried to plant carrot seeds once in that soil. I chipped away at the clay and the grass enough to make a small pocket for the seed, and I watered my little garden faithfully. But when it came time for the harvest, my “carrots” were just flattened knobs of dusty yellow. The soil was too hard for the carrot root to burrow down into the ground.
When I grew up and moved to France, then, you can imagine my horror at finding actual dirt in the vegetables that I bought at the market. Why were the potatoes caked in mud? How could I get the nasty, gritty soil out of the leeks and the spinach that I cooked? The vegetables back home at Kroger sure weren’t dirty like that. And why did everyone grow vegetables in their front yards, instead of planting hedges and flowers? And on my friends’ farms, people sure tracked a lot of mud into the house, without anyone seeming to care ….
It has taken me a long time to make friends with dirt—with the soil. It helped me to learn that our sacred story in scripture certainly holds the soil in high esteem. In the second Creation Story, in Genesis 2, we human beings are adam, “soil creatures,” made from the adama, or fine garden soil, the precise reddish-colored kind of soil you find in Israel. 1 It’s a Hebrew pun, similar to calling us “humans” made from “humus.” The connected words link humans to the land, to the specific land belonging to the people of Israel, to whom the story belonged. They link human beings to their farmland, to land that can produce food and life.
Of course, humans aren’t just made of soil. In the story, God takes the soil, wet from a nearby stream, molds it, and then breathes life into it. African-American poet James Weldon Johnson retells the story like this:
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.2
According to our foundational story, then, we are humble creatures, part of—and dependent on—both the Spirit of God, and the dirt, the land in which we live.
Let’s rejoice in our kinship with the soil! Let’s teach our children to give thanks to God for the dirt on our vegetables!
This Month’s Challenge:
Spend some time digging in the soil with your children, in your garden or at a farm, or just in a corner of your yard. Observe the texture of the soil and feel its weight in your hands. Make something out of it. Wonder with your children about how we are part of the soil on which we live. How can we remember our role as soil people, the caretakers of the ground and all that grows there? Post your image to Instagram with the hashtag #imaginingwholeness. Have your children think of a second hashtag, if they'd like. (If you don’t use Instagram, just email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I will collect the images submitted each month and publish them together on this website. If enough people respond, we will have a composite image that will, I hope, help us all to see our world in a new way, and, perhaps, find new ways of relating with the creation and the Creator!
1. Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 29.
2. James Weldon Johnson, "The Creation," The Book of American Negro Poetry, 1922, http://www.bartleby.com/269/41.html.
Image found at http://www.catholicmannight.com/jesus-christ-the-divine-strategist/why-does-jesus-spit-in-clay/