Chapter One: Dirt

I grew up in Minnesota, a state that has some of the best farmland in the country. Before I moved to California in my twenties, I didn’t know that dirt was any other color than the black, alluvial soil that I had smelled and played in all my life. Although my family of origin did not farm, I was surrounded by friends who made it their livelihood. We always ate the crops that they shared with us, homegrown and seasonal. Unlike Diana Butler Bass, I knew exactly where food came from.

This chapter on dirt stirred a lot of memories for me. Although I truly enjoy the many benefits of living in a city by the ocean, I also love the wide open spaces I knew at such a young age and the luscious taste of a homegrown tomato. From the first rented house we had in Santa Ana, I have planted home gardens. Sadly, most of them have not lasted. As Diana says, “the real work of gardening is in the soil,” and, I might add, water, two resources in short supply in Southern California. Still, I am determined and have tomatoes, peppers, and lots of herbs growing in my backyard today.

I have often joked with my daughters that the reason I still do my own housework and gardening is that I don’t want to lose connection with the dirt. I know they think I’m a bit crazy or maybe just a glutton for punishment or even worse, an OCD control freak about my own house and yard. But to me, dirt is an inextricable part of the spiritual life. I learned this both by experience and from my most influential mentors many years ago. And so reading this chapter was just a big head nod from me.

Some nuggets to ponder from this Chapter:

  1. Where Is God? and the Dirt –Panentheism – The idea that God is with or in all things; recognizes the distinctions between things, at the same time that it affirms the indwelling force of spirit (typically called God) that draws all things into relationship with all other things. “God is not a tree; a tree is not God. But God is with the tree;  and the tree is with God.”  Do you resonate with this concept? Agree or disagree? Why? How has either accepting or rejecting this idea impacted your life
    1. Diana says that Western religion “baptized theologies that distanced God from the dirt and emphasized human lordship over the land. The soil-y God was left to mystics, monks, women, and mostly the poor–people on the margins of the religious community whose orthodoxy has always been suspect and whose institutional power was negligible.” (39)  What has been your experience?
  2. We’re Dirt – Diana writes about the two creation stories at the beginning of Genesis, in proof that “we’re dirt,” a subtitle. Adam and Eve’s names mean “Soil and Life” in Hebrew. They marry and their union produces the human race. We are “animated dirt,” having received divine breath. “We were made from living ground and to living ground we will return.”  (Reminiscent of Ash Wednesday) What is your response to her take on the Genesis stories? How does it feel to be called animated dirt?
  3. Losing Eden–Diana expounds on how and why we are disconnected from the soil and builds a case for why we should try to get back to the garden, even if we live in the city.  She says we should view the earth as the body of God, not separate from God. So. . .What do you think? Is God, indeed, in the dirt?
  4. Soil, Sin and Salvation – Diana says she thinks one of the reasons we don’t care for the land as we should is because somewhere along the way, there was a linguistic connection between dirt (being dirty) and sin.  The language about the land has aided and abetted its misuse. It’s time to reclaim the dirt! Would you agree? How has this theological description of “dirty” impacted your self-image? Image of God?
  5. Holy Dirt – This section is about Diana’s experience with the healing powers of chili peppers, grown in the dirt of Chimayo, New Mexico, the “Lourdes of North American.” What is your reaction to this story?
  6. Earth Is For Real – “Finding God in the dirt allows us to experience faith in new ways.” Has this been true for you? How?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: