I was looking over a draft of a personal narrative theology I began constructing a while back. I didn’t get very far, but the draft opens with this simple line:
I stand in the goodness of dirt.
We are a mysophobic people. We don’t like germs and we don’t like dirt. We fear those things because we’ve given them the power to make us unclean.
So we shower. We scrub our hands. We control our climates – heating and cooling with machines – to avoid sweats and shivers. We rinse, wash, spin and then rinse, wash, and spin.
We apply chemicals on the parts of our body most prone to smell. We “plug it in, plug it in for freshness with a new spin” so the air around us stops smelling like…us. We seal off doors and windows. We pay for new cars so that our car can smell like a new car instead of an old car (which smells like…us).
We only shop at clean and shiny stores where we can buy clean and shiny food. We want to eat meat but do not want to see eyes or blood or feet or beaks. We scrub, scrub, scrub our fruits and vegetables. No dirt for us, just clean and shiny food.
Somewhere deep down we’ve equated being dirty with being unclean in its fullest sense – defiled, unworthy, bad.
So we scrub, scrub, scrub.
I guess what I’m saying is that we’ve forgotten where and what we come from.
The ancient Hebrew stories of beginning (which have been compiled into a book we call Genesis) start with God calling the universe into being and, in that brand new universe, cultivating a garden. Planted in that garden and given life through God’s own breath was אָדָם – a creature formed from and named after the dust and dirt and soil of that first garden.
In the beginning, God created dirt-y and dust-y humans and it was very good.
I just finished reading Sara Miles’ latest memoir (which I really enjoyed…check it out): City of God: Faith in the Streets (Hachette, 2014). In it, she explores her neighborhood – San Francisco’s Mission – through the lens of Ash Wednesday’s call to remember dust and ashes, to remember the cycle of life and death, to remember our humanity.
How often we forget our humanity. How often we forget the gift it is to be human. How often we forget to stand in the goodness of dirt.
The story of Christianity is ‘good news.’ Too often that goodness has been construed through a lens of escape.
Escape from our bodies, escape from this earth, escape from the dirt and the dust.
The goodness of the Christian story lies not in escape but in embodiment.
This embodiment is an invitation into the freedom of realizing and embracing who we were created to be.
Crafted in the Imago Dei, being transformed into the Imago Christi so that we might experience the redemption and glory of a dust creature living in right relationship with the one who calls forth and forms life and beauty from the dirt and names it good.