In the Beginning: the Dirt

more on the slow process of remembering who we are

IN THE BEGINNING 

Let’s begin at the beginning, when we were made of dust in Potter hands. Think of how Adam walked the garden and as his toes sank into the dirt, he might have wiggled them there and given a sigh of comfort, how a baby does when at the breast of the one who gives him milk, who rocked him within for months. If God’s breath fathered him, it was the earth that mothered. This is one of the first metaphors we have in scripture, and isn’t it beautiful? Scripture implies that God intends for us to be mothered, to know our mother, to eat from her and give her care! 

Now let’s head to the end. And speaking of head, there’s a great and painful birth there. She, our great Mother (spoiler: the mother is Mary here), bears a child, and that child is the Christ. There, waiting in the shadow, is the devourer, the Dragon, and the Dragon is insatiably hungry for the child, in fact, for all the children of that mother (Revelation 12). The Dragon lives under the ancient curse— You’ll eat the dust of the earth; You’ll eat and eat and eat, and you will never get the feeling of being full. It’s an odd curse, isn’t it? The one on the snake in the garden, the one on the Dragon?  

Somehow, I relate to the snake. Somehow, I’ve twisted the curse more to make myself a child of the insatiable one. Somehow, I forget that part of Eve’s curse is to remember the pain of our Mother in labor and that Adam’s curse was that the very ground would begin groaning. It would bear thistle and thorn unless he sweat hard on its behalf. I forget that our role isn’t only to consume the earth but rather to care for it, to make it fertile, knowing God’s breath brings it to life. Soil is a very sacred thing, and we are its children. We get to eat from it and learn what it means to restore what the devourer only consumes. 

It is the season of Lent, which also began this way in dust and ashes: “You are but dust.” It is a matter of life or death that you understand this and what a miracle it is. It is also a matter of life and death to understand that God entered this dusty experience through Mary. Born as man, his name was Jesus. And now Jesus gives himself to us in the bread of his table (formed from grain grown in dust). In the words from the Father’s mouth, this bread is all free and completely satisfying food. Let’s give our heads a minute to stop twirling on that good news. 

THE TIME I ALMOST BECAME A SHEPHERDESS

While the young people I know were getting importantly worked up about oceans and animal populations, I began doing my own middle-aged work in the realm of Earth care, though that’s not what I intended to do. When I turned 40, my attention unexpectedly turned to the bone spurs and arthritis in my feet, but right before I realized such elderly details of myself, I decided to become a shepherdess - as one does. I was no longer leading a church (I’d recently quit seminary and dropped out of the ordination process), and that fact made me prone to bouts of crying. Sheep make me laugh. It was that simple: a cure to tears and a way I could still do the thing I was called to do, which was to lead the ones I love to good food.

So I bought land; I planned to amend the land; I wanted a relationship with the land. And all of this was so that I could care for sheep and so those sheep could make weird sounds, have stupid cute babies, and make me laugh. Yes, I realize how dumb this sounds. Yes, I know sheep also disobey, run away, gouge you with horns, and die for no apparent reason.

However, it was my continued search for how to be a shepherdess that led me to read a book called Holy Shit, by the late Gene Logsdon. Logsdon was once a seminary student, too, and had plans to be a priest. He was the friend of Wendall Berry, Joel Salatin, and countless other stubborn farmers across this nation. Holy Shit is a book 100% about poop, why it’s important to our entire well-being, and how to better utilize the poop near you. There’s an entire section on how to handle a manure fork so you can best sling it where it needs to go. It’s not a book of metaphors - or it didn’t intend to be, but alas, holy shit, too, is sacramental. 

This book talks of what great lengths we go to hide ourselves from the unseemly, the dirt of us. We’re a culture of multiple courtesy flushes. Feed lots are known for their stench, and bazillions of dollars are spent a year to keep that smell to a minimum, so as to make doubly sure that we’ll keep consuming. All the while, what was once fertile land is being zapped year after year by the modified crop. We remove the habitat that once fed it and instead make additions that further remove us from the land. So often, the only thing that feeds the soil these days is low performing fertilizer that disrupts all kinds of ecological processes that I will not be addressing here. We’re becoming fools wearing white gloves, denying our mother, and telling everybody else that we don’t poop or if we do, it don’t stink. 

Gene Logsdon declares that shit is Holy. We need it as part of our process of being healthy and whole, and so does the land. If the land isn’t receiving nourishment, the planting, reaping, and replanting is its own form of non-consentual consumption. It is not communion.

We need to see ourselves as part of a big life circle (que Lion King), and our own actual poop and the poop of animals is what feeds the land that then in turn feeds us! I came to believe that small farms with rotating livestock may just save the world. And that’s what I did for my Summer break. I took up a vocational dream that wasn’t mine to have. 

Here enters my aging feet, my inability to walk upstairs much less to farm, my church unbecoming my church, and my friendships being tested beyond what any of us thought we could survive.  I’ll share that story when it’s the healthy thing for me to do, but until then, I wanted to tell you that I sold my beautiful land, but what remains is a profound love for the gospel I heard there: Don’t be afraid of the dirt, not even of the shit you find yourself in. It has a purpose. You can know this because you are but dust.

Since I believed this, I have looked in the mirror and finally recognized myself. There are other reasons for this, too. I have found a church that miraculously still exists with its goodness intact in spite of 2,000 years of repeated foolishness. I have really only begun processing pain with the ones who hurt me, but I am witnessing restoration, though it be slow. That’s how the shit works, though, isn’t it? The slow-breaking, deep-feeding stench of it all has done wonders to my creativity, something that early left me altogether in my past two years of “ministry.”

So here I am, a writer, which is the thing I was all along, and I can’t move forward without bringing you with me. But I am not the Shepherd now. I’m more like Buddy the Elf shouting: “I know him! I know him!” Sometimes I think I make racket that God loves just for the heck of it, like I do sheep. I feel it. I’m starting my seeds, and that dirt on my hands is from the earth that took on God’s breath. How good to know. 

Don’t forget that you are made out of dust, and that in your particular dustiness, you’re called an Ambassador of Christ. I’ve never felt such broad-spread global chaos as I do this very day, but since we are people of the New Adam and children of the New Eve, we can remember that God breathes in low places and made even our own stench to feed this earth. We’re meant to go back to ourselves, dust to dust. It’s okay. Feed the hungry. Groan with the soil. Remember your mother. Remember that the Dragon who devours dust will one day be undone. Even now as you turn from consumption, you’re undoing him.

LET’S FIND A COMMON HOME

As we move forward in the coming weeks, I expect I’ll be sharing more about what it means to confront the habit of consumption we’re in. Please join me in conversation on Instagram, too, particularly in the "Common Home" thread. Christian people are not children of the hungry dragon. Let’s remember that with our whole lives and remember it’s okay to start small.

Peace to you today as you reduce your intake of what doesn’t satisfy and begin (again) that honest longing for what does.

Amber

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PS: I may pick up my pace on these newsletters. I’m actually finding it harder to write to you every other week than to give myself freedom to write you more often (tops once a week) if those words prove timely. It’s hard for me to round up words I’ve been saving up and much easier to write them as they come. Please don’t be surprised if I show up a tiny bit more than I originally said.

Thank you for engaging. I’m so grateful you’re here with me, and thank you for sharing my work with others, too.