The path between our front door and the front gate is tiled, yet every day I deliberately detour from it to place my foot on the garden, as deference to the earth. It is possible for most of us to go through a whole day without touching the earth – traversing from house to concrete path to car and driving into a car park at the other end. For the many who work in office blocks, the journey then continues away from the earth itself, lifting us to a place where we breathe air which has been filtered and moderated for comfort. The end of the day reverses the journey into a home where the thought of dirt on the feet gives rise to concerns for cleaning.
While we spend a lot of time and energy reflecting on the impact of our lifestyles on this planet, it is sobering to recall how few times in a week we actually touch the ground – rather than the pavements and constructions we have placed upon it. We have built lifestyles and cities which make it possible to avoid contact with the natural, even while we express deep concern at its diminution of health.
The creation story reminds us that we are made from the dust of the earth, to which we eventually return. In other words, we are a part of this earth, and it a part of us. In one form or other we will find ourselves reunited with it in death, but until then it is possible to avoid contact with it for much of the year. We jokingly refer to a friend who spends much time flying around the world for his work as an angel. Yet we must pause to question whether this disconnect from mother earth diminishes our humanity and to what degree.
In the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the humans are condemned for working together to build a tower that “reaches to the heavens.” This rather puzzling condemnation for apparent cooperation is better understood as condemnation for disconnecting themselves from the earth. God acts to drive them back “to the earth,” to their essential human nature.
In the New Testament, we find Jesus interrupting a vigilante squad seeking to execute a woman caught in adultery. After challenging their motives, Jesus stoops to draw in the sand, and act which could be construed as reminding these religious folk that we all share a common origin – the earth.
In an era where there is a high focus on technological development and an increasing gap between human life and the produce of the earth, what more radical act could there be than to plant a tree, to nurture a garden, to grow some food? In an era when we are concerned about our impact on the planet’s health, our spiritual health calls us to connect again with the earth, learning how to tend it healthily, and in so doing recover something of our human identity under God.
April 6, 2010
NB: this reflection was published in the Sunday Age on January 25, 2010
Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.