Down and Dirty!

dsc03852Gardeners look at dirt in an entirely different way than non-gardeners don’t they? I can say that because, as a former non-gardener, I really didn’t pay too much attention to the ground beneath my feet. Sure, I had houseplants, whose soil came from a bag, but despite having grown up with parents who gardened, I never paid much attention to the composition of dirt.

Two things changed, roughly around the same time. We started getting our fruit and vegetables through a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. And we had flower beds put in at our new house. Eating locally and seasonally made me much more aware of the cycles of rain and sun; weekly updates from the farm let us know the impact of those cycles; those updates also made us aware of how fruit and vegetables really look, not just the perfect ones that make it into the grocery stores. And the taste of those vegetables… there is nothing better than fresh!

Food security has become an important political topic. Access to fresh food is linked to health and well-being. I believe there is going to be a mobile food market here in Spryfield and in other parts of the city aiming to give residents greater access to fresh food.

The other day I was in the community garden taking some pictures for today’s service and it was very hard not to pull up a couple of carrots, wipe the dirt off and eat them! But I resisted and was rewarded a little later that morning when June, our organist, called and asked if I would like a few vegetables from her garden.

It was through weeding my flower beds though, that I became aware that dirt was more than just dirt. It was made up of many components, it may be dry and crumbly, it may be hard packed with a clay like consistency, it may be moist and clumpy. Rocks, leaves, sand… and even as a novice gardener, I knew that the presence of earthworms was a good thing! Experienced gardeners know that different kinds of plants need different kinds of soil and growing conditions. And you can’t really garden without getting down and dirty can you? I found out that gardening involves your entire body.

Growing food from seeds almost seems magical doesn’t it? Everyone here know what carrot seeds look like? Not much right? Tiny, tiny beige seeds… and yet embedded in their DNA is everything necessary to grow beautifully orange, or purple or yellow carrots, along with their frothy, green tops.

Gardens these days are bursting with bounty… I am always amazed at the sheer abundance of what is possible in the smallest garden. Even my flower beds, after three short years, are in some cases, overflowing their spaces, and I have had to make a couple of new ones. Not to mention sharing what I have…

I know from personal experience that most gardeners share their bounty, whether it is fruit and vegetables or perennial flowers, most gardeners are willing, in fact, eager to share what they have with others.

Our biblical text says that God created the heavens and the earth. And further on in Genesis, after creating humankind on the sixth day, it is written, “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

If we read Genesis literally, we may understand our relationship with the earth quite differently than if we read it metaphorically. If we read it literally, we may understand it to mean that the earth is ours to use to our own ends, in whatever manner we wish. And without knowing when it was written and to whom it was written, leads to that assumption, that indeed, we are to subjugate the world. Most contemporary biblical scholars agree that this part of Genesis was written in a time when the Hebrew people had been taken into captivity, or shortly after that. That the writing contains elements of Mesopotamian myths. And was written to try and explain how the world came to be and their place in it. In a time when they had no, or little, control over their lives, a God that gave them control and power, would have been comforting and inspiring, in that it could give them hope that their present reality was not how God intended the world to be. And if that is the case, we can understand why the writers used words and phrases such as ‘dominion over’ to explain our place in creation.

What we know now is that we are part of the vast web of creation. We are not above creation, but intricately connected to all of it. Our health, the health of the planet are all intertwined. With that knowledge, how do we find meaning in this passage? How do we still think of these passages as Holy Scripture?

A couple of things that work for me… and I am not suggesting that they will work for you… The historical context helps me… an ancient people wrestling with how the world came to be and their place in it. I feel a connection with those people… as I wrestle with those very same things.  The only thing I am sure about the creation story is that ‘God,’ however you understand that word, created the heavens and the earth… And that I am charged with caring for the heavens and the earth. Not dominating it… not stripping it of every last resource, but, as the line from our Creed says, ‘To live with respect in creation.’

Who has heard of the Ecological Footprint Quiz? For those of you who haven’t, it is an on-line questionnaire that takes a look at your ecologic footprint. In their words: “Ever wondered how much “nature” your lifestyle requires? You’re about to find out. The Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates the amount of land and ocean area required to sustain your consumption patterns and absorb your wastes on an annual basis. After answering 27 easy questions you’ll be able to compare your Ecological Footprint to others’ and learn how to reduce your impact on the Earth.” For those of you with internet access, I encourage you to take the test sometime in the next week or so.

I like to think that Woody and I live a life that touches the earth lightly. When we built our home a few years ago, we put in extra insulation, we use compact fluorescent lighting, we reused Woody’s kitchen cupboards and got many things through Kijiji and The Habitat for Humanity ReStore.As I said, we eat seasonally and locally. We don’t have an extravagant lifestyle… mind you, like many people; we struggle with the difference between wants and needs. So, when I took the test, I was both surprised and horrified to find out that if the rest of the world lived my lifestyle, we would need 3.56 earths to support it! 3.56 earths! And that’s just Woody and I, and our ‘unextravagant lifestyle.’  Perhaps ‘unextravagant’ by some North American standards. But certainly extravagant compared to the way many of the worlds’ people live.

So what do we do with this information? So, how do we live better on earth? But before we go into that, let me ask a question, “Do you sometimes or often feel helpless to make a difference to problems that seem so vast such as climate change? Me too… but I try and live by the principal that I can only change my behaviour; I can’t change anybody else’s. At least I can’t change it by force; perhaps I can change it by example. There are a hundred small ways in which we can change our ecological imprint and I am sure you know many of them: wash in cold water, hang your clothes outside, turn the lights off etc. Reduce, reuse, recycle, we all know the drill. I heard another one the other day: downsize, donate, diminish. Those are all personal things we can do to make a difference to my own consumption patterns. But I often feel helpless about some other things… things like safe water, climate change, the depletion of the glaciers, wars and violence. Although even there, I can make personal changes.

Have you ever heard the expression ‘the personal is the political.’ In the late ’60s and early ’70s, “The personal is political” became a catchphrase of the feminist movement. Origins unknown, it was popularized in a Carol Hanisch essay by that name in Notes From a Second Year: Women’s Liberation in 1970. Coupled with consciousness-raising groups—sessions during which women gathered to discuss and dissect their own experiences with oppression, discrimination, sexism, and stereotyping—the “personal is political” encapsulated the relationships women were finding between their individual experiences and the broader fight for equal treatment.”

What I have come to understand that this means, is that in a broader sense, each choice we make, reflects something about our society and has some impact on our community. Each time we recycle, and I am ALWAYS surprised when I find out that somebody doesn’t, each time we put out that blue bag, we are saying something political. Each time we shop local rather than from one of the large agribusinesses, we say something political. Each time we refuse to BUY water, we say something. Each time we choose peace rather violence, we say something.

David Whyte, a poet wrote a poem entitled START CLOSE IN
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with the ground you know… start with yourself…start with your community… getting down and dirty… in holy ground.

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.

Genesis 1: 1-5, 9-12

© Catherine MacDonald 2015

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