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:
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Earth Is For Real – “Finding God in the dirt allows us to experience faith in new ways.” Has this been true for you? How?
I first encountered Diana Butler Bass when I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts called “The Deconstructionists.” As many of you know, I am currently spending quite a bit of time listening to why millennials are disenchanted with the institutional church. The two young hosts of this podcast, John Williamson and Adam Norlach, give me hope for the future. They are big thinkers, respectful questioners, and giant sponges for learning. They are both from the evangelical Christian tradition and both are rethinking all that they had previously just accepted as Truth. Kindred spirits, they began speaking about their inner journeys and discovered that many other people were on similar pathways. A dream come true, they began inviting writers, teachers, and speakers from all faith traditions to a podcast conversation which they produce each week. I could go on and on about them, and the podcast, but won’t right now. Suffice to say that they were the ones who introduced me to Diana Butler Bass.
Diana (I think of her as a friend though we have never met), had my full attention within about 10 minutes of listening. Her voice held conviction; her ideas echoed deep because Diana is interested in the same things that root and ground me: incarnational spirituality. I immediately purchased this book and was captivated by her personal experiences and storytelling style. And when that happens to me, I want to share with my friends as a springboard for meaningful conversation. And so we are here.
The Introduction to the Book
It took our group two hours last month to discuss the Introduction, it is full of so many intersecting ideas from the last book we read, “The Great Emergence,” by Phyllis Tickle. If you were not there, here are some nuggets from that conversation:
- The question, “Where is God?” is more important than the “what” or “why” questions at this time in history.
- Many people in the past were taught to view life as a three-tiered universe with heaven “up there,” humankind in the center, and hell down below us with gaps in between. Finding God came through faith and/or good works that moved us, like an elevator, up and down; also called “vertical theology.” God was distant and omniscient.
- Events and discoveries of the 20-21st centuries crumbled the old model.
- Many have stopped believing as a result of the seeming inconsistencies between science and faith, struggles between good and evil, that seem to go on endlessly. People no longer need God to rescue them, fix things, intervene with miracles so to them, the beliefs they were taught about the conventional God are dead.
- “You can not revive a God for a world that no longer exists. . .Venerating a God of a vanished world is the very definition of fundamentalism, the kind inflicting pain and violence on many innocent people today.”
- “We live in a theologically flattened world.”
- But is there another option between fundamentalism and a deceased god?
- Yes, says Diana, citing the many crises of the 21st century (9/11, school shootings, tsunamis, human trafficking, wars, etc).
- The question “Where is God?” has been answered by many: GOD IS WITHIN (returning to the basic meaning of Incarnation).
- In this “Age of Anxiety,” the way of the mystic is the dominant response in contrast to fundamentalism. The language of mysticism is everywhere today.
- This is a worldwide phenomenon, in all faith traditions, a “re-enchantment of the world, a spiritual revolution.” Ordinary people are leading this revolution, not churches and clergy. Church numbers are declining but not belief in God.
- The gap between the spiritual revolution and the institutional church is on the rise because people are claiming personal agency for their own lives: crafting playlists. food, media, beer, etc. God is becoming far more personal to them. Institutional churches have failed to grasp this. “They are sleeping through the revolution!”
- “To re-locate God is to reground our lives.” We cannot separate spiritual from material any longer (dualism).
- Diana wrote this book because she is heartbroken over being dismissed for believing in this spiritual revolution movement. She’s not angry. She was challenged in her own faith to move beyond the conventional God (outside time and space) to a grounded God in relationship, right here and now. This doesn’t mean she is watering down faith, a cafeteria Christian, lazy, or indifferent. She’s experiencing God beautifully, everywhere. The world is sacred ground.
- The book’s main insight: “God is the ground, the grounded, that which grounds us.” Diana wrote it to help others understand and join her on this beautiful journey.
As promised, I have started a blog for our Sophia thoughts, ideas, feelings, photos, impressions, and anything else we want to share before and after our monthly gatherings. I decided to call our circle of friends, “Sophia By The Sea” to honor our women’s retreats every year in Capistrano Beach and our beautiful environment on the coast of Southern California. Living in such close proximity to the Pacific Ocean has had a therapeutic effect and connected us to Beauty and to the Beloved in a myriad of ways. It seems only fitting that we are known by our outer, as well as inner, surroundings.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, May 14th, at Joyce’s house. Please RSVP to her emails regarding being present and food.
Our current book is Grounded by Diana Butler Bass. We have already read the Introduction together. Our discussion this month will be about Chapter 1: Dirt. I will post my notes about the Introduction in the next blog and post a few questions for you to ponder before we gather.
Grace and peace be on your path this day, and always. . .