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  • Writer's picturethewrightecotheologian

Dishing the Dirt... We are Soulful Soil

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

In your adventures awakening to the ground beneath our feet, did you reflect on the idea that we are animated dust of Earth -- soulful soil? I did and I wanted to share my thoughts and reflections.

...then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

Holy noticing the ground beneath our feet will remind us of who and whose we are: whether it is when we play in nature, or when we see the same iron in both our blood and in rocks, or when we examine the interesting ways trees, ants and mushrooms “talk” with one another, or when we hear a sermon on Adam’s formation from adamah (dust).

Each lesson reinforces that we are terra animate — animated Earth or soulful soil. This discovery should inform how we are to tend, serve, and protect the inspirited bodies of our neighbors, who also witness to a God who desires abundant life for all.

When we alienate ourselves from Earth and our planetary neighbors, they stopped being important. We stopped thinking of them as worthy of love and care. If God looked upon creation and declared that indeed, creation is very good, who are we to say (and do) otherwise?

Pope Francis narrates part of our story of alienation from creation

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right. ( LS 32– 33)

From the last blog, you were introduced to the role metaphors have played in justifying humanity's exploitation of Earth and the oppression of people and communities connected to Earth (poor; disabled; indigenous people; people of color).

Holy noticing the ground beneath our feet will open our minds and spirits to the wonder and awe of creation as a sacred, unfolding story of God's overflowing love -- full of many subjects worthy of love. This will help begin the process of dislodging the machine metaphor and replacing it with something that inspires us to new, more just, behaviors.

What can we replace the machine metaphor with? Pope Francis is clear: Integral Ecology. But this is a complex and somewhat abstract term that we don't hear very often from the pulpit (from my experience in North Carolina that is...). But don't worry, this will be addressed in some of my future blogs. Today, I am choosing a different path -- instead of filling your mind with just terms and ideas, I want to have you reflect on a story and your story. Then I believe, there will be fertile ground for the meaning of integral ecology to take root in your imaginations and inspire ecological conversion.

Creative Re-connection Exercise: Exploring the Ground Beneath Your Feet (Part 2)

Revisit the space where you spent your first creative moments in the last blog. Intimacy comes from befriending spaces and places. Falling in love takes time and so does dislodging detrimental images that have been feeding our imaginations. Remember that Earth's seasons are different chapters of Earth's story and even a different time of day will introduce you to new characters, settings, and subplots of the sacred creation story.

Stop. Take your art piece from your last visit and let it help you dwell in this space as an inhabitant / friend rather than a transient visitor. Also take with you a copy of Douglas Wood's book "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth" -- or narrate it and record it on your phone or find a narration on the internet that speaks to you.


Listen. Using your eyes, ears, and heart, listen to what you created last time. What was your message to yourself? What about the story of the Old Turtle and the Broken Truth? Listen deeply and let this story feed your imagination.

Author: Douglas Wood Watercolours: John J Muth

Create. In your mind, narrate your personal contributions to the cosmic story. Choose any number of these questions to help you explore your relationship with the ground beneath your feet.

  • At what time of your life were you closest with creation? Why? Did this change? When? Why? What can help you retrieve an intimacy if you feel it has been lost?

  • Can you to embrace yourself as soulful soil? What makes you hesitate? Is dust too foreign a substance for you to even comprehend as being part of who you are? Do you see yourself as more of a thinker than as inspirited dust? Is this a scary notion?

  • What resonates with you when you hear "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" or ""remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" on Ash Wednesday?

  • Could the soil beneath your feet be worthy of your love? of God's love? Explore any areas of resistance - lean into this vulnerability as Brene Brown often speaks about.

  • Have you been taught that intimacy with creation means you are a pantheist (e.g., God is a tree, trapping God in this finite world) and this is not what the Church teaches. You are right. But is this call for intimacy panentheism -- or more simply put: God is immanent in this world and an infinitely transcendent Mystery. The latter is a deeply faithful expression of God's activity in the world

This is part of our vocation as the only species who knows and can celebrate the grand, ancient, unfinished, sacred story of creation. This is part of our identity as

children of God -- Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Thomas Berry broke open my mind when he said that we humans, are the universe awoken to itself. It is though our ability to understand history, tell stories, and do science that the cosmos knows and celebrates itself. This is our vocation -- it is what God wants for us as human beings and makes us unique.

Here, in its human mode, the universe reflects on and celebrates itself in a unique mode of conscious self-awareness.” Thomas Berry,The Great Work

We are special and loved. But so are they.

This is the truth of our sacred, interconnected cosmos.

But we have stopped listening to the fungi, the soil, the meadows, the ground beneath our feet because we are afraid that God would love us less if God loved them more. Our fear of being not worthy has often made our planetary neighbors completely invisible to us and has justified the degradation of our world.

But with these scales of fear and anxiety on our eyes we are less because we not doing what we are formed for -- celebrating and reflecting on the gift of God's creation. We are blind to the message of God's glory being offered by our planetary neighbors and this diminishes our relationship with our Savior.

And think of how this devaluing of Earth is connected to our inability to appreciate the worth of other humans. Whether immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, indigenous people -- these people are deemed 'less' and are not subjects in a sacred unfolding creation story. Rather, they are 'its' or objects to be oppressed, marginalized, or eradicated.

My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life" Pope Francis, June 2020

We are all important subjects within the sacred, cosmic, unfolding adventure set in motion by God Creator, Redeemer,


And as I tell my ethics classes -- God's love is not like a full coffee cup that is diminished if drank or shared. It is not a zero sum game. That is the beauty of infinite Love -- there is more than enough to go around. A candle is a better analogy -- when the flame is shared, the original flame is not diminished and all the secondary flames can grow to the same intensity.

Let's embrace ourselves as soulful soil and awaken to joy.

O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead. Isaiah 26:19

Praise Be!

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