The grass is getting greener. Trees are filling out. Purples and reds are budding where things can grow, and we just celebrated Earth Day. More of my hours are being spent outside, reading, breathing, being.
I think it’s affecting me.
There is indeed something powerful about feeling connected to the earth. Scripture has long used metaphors of nature to remind us that we are intentionally, wonderfully, and beautifully a part of God’s creation: it gives an instant sense of belonging. (Psalm 23’s green pastures and still waters are for YOU, my friend.)
We really can’t talk about nature without talking about community. Mary Douglas is credited with lifting up the critical difference between soil and dirt (I did a Sixty Second Sermon video on this about four years ago—click here). Soil happily belongs where it is, within a garden, in a pot, or on a farm. Dirt is what we call it when it’s not where it’s supposed to be: around the house, on the floor, in your face. In other words, dirt is just a kind of soil, but is not welcome in our lives. I can find on the internet that the Social Science Society of America calls dirt “displaced soil.” “Displaced” is a word I more often hear describing people than anything else, and saying dirt is soil makes a powerful theological claim. When we connect with the earth, we are reminded that we are soil, valued, rich with life, full of potential. Jesus fought fiercely against those who would call you dirt and refuted the claims that you do not belong: entire passages where the disciples and Jesus challenge systems and beliefs that call people unclean (Acts 10, Matthew 15). If we consider the lived experiences of ourselves and our neighbors, we might find centuries of messaging that some humans are perceived as dirtier than others, and even simply as dirt. The connection of the word “white” to cleanliness and purity in our liturgy can shape our theological imaginations that can then go on to shape our racial identities, especially when juxtaposed against contrasts of “black” and “dark”. I am reminded of how plants need the cool of darkness to sprout until they are strong enough to withstand direct sunline. The dark is beautiful too: “Black is beautiful” is a theological claim about the nature of creation as much as it is a sociological one. Nature appreciation is not simply recreational activity; it is at its core a theological exercise.
We cannot behold such beauty without being reminded of our responsibility to it. From the book of Genesis, humanity was charged with being caretakers of the garden of the world and all those in it. Genesis 1 (the first Genesis story, before the Garden of Eden one was written by different authors) is a beautiful chapter to exegete: the world is very intentionally made, first the space, then filling it, all in complete balance, light and dark, water and land, space and creation, each day end-capped by a proclamation that it is good. with a finale of rest and enjoyment. As we come out of Earth Day, we are reminded of our connection, our belonging, our shared responsibility to this world God created so in balance. When we have a positive regard for nature, it shapes the way we see ourselves.
The Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy has no fewer than seven congregations in our presbytery officially designated as Earth Care congregations. These are those who have made a pledge to work for the restoration of creation through declarations in worship, capacity-building in education, managing your facilities, and engaging your local community in public witness and outreach. There is a recertification process that even recommits to these promises. This is an exercise of combining our efforts to focus on how to bring balance to creation that humanity has broken.
What might such a commitment look like in your worshipping context? Is there a challenge we can share?
May we embrace the beauty around us—all the beautify that God created: not just the plants, but the very people who share this garden with us. May we be reminded to take care of it and each other, together.
You are soil.