You and I are Just Dirt

HERD ABOUT IT?

by Ana Grarian

Ana is on a field trip through the mid-west with a group of church folk. We are a varied group from California to New York, Texas to Kentucky, men and women ages 20 something to 70 something. Vegan, vegetarian and omnivore. Urban, suburban, farm folk with a passion for sustainable agriculture, just food systems, and healthy foods. Many have a background in ministry.

We have heard some exemplary lectures from Dr. Ellen Davis a Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, at Duke University, and close friend of Ana’s patron saint Wendell Berry.

Dr. Davis tells us the story from a new perspective, that of an agrarian. Close to one hundred percent of ancient people’s would have been farmers, shepherds and gardeners. Land, tillable land, was not a marketable quantity in ancient Israel. Though a home or business within the city walls could be bought or sold, arable land was a covenanted entity.

Land was held it in covenant with God. A person who could not pay their debts (usually taxes) would sell their children, or themselves into indentured servitude, before selling their land, because this gave them an opportunity to work off the debt. In the event that land was lost, the extended family was obligated to try to redeem the land.

We are all familiar with the phrase “from dust you came to dust you shall return”, or “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, from funeral services. The implication that we came from nothing and will return to nothing, but according to Dr. Davis that “nothing” idea is wrong. The correct translation is more like “arable soil” and is used in terms of being our progenitor. We are “Adam from Adamah” a red human from the red soil. Humans from humus. And there are other creation stories that illustrate man as having been formed from the earth.

And not just the first humans. Daily we are recreated from the earth, from the soil in which our food grows. The earth will belong to it’s creator, whomever you perceive that to be, long after we are gone. In the meantime we are invited to share in an abundance from which we gain life. Do we want that to be a healthy and just life, or one polluted by our own hands?

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
descending in the dark?
The Man Born to Farming copyright Wendell Berry