Sunday, 8 July 2012

Humble. Earth.

As we sat in conversation about traditional farming methods, she broke off to declare, with real passion, “I hate it when they call soil ‘dirt’!  I just hate it! I wish they wouldn’t use that word!  Dirt!  It isn’t dirt, it’s soil!”

For a moment I entertained the possibility of pointing out to her that  the two words have exactly the same connotations and mean exactly the same thing. “Soil” is no more or less than a different word for “dirt”.  Soiled sheets, soiled nappies (diapers) – familiar enough terms surely.  But realising that saying so would just make her look foolish and in the wrong, oh just leave it, I thought, and I let the conversation roll along where it wanted to.

But in essence we were in agreement anyway, because I too detest hearing the word “dirt” (or “soil”) applied to the earth.  We rely on that fertile layer to grow our food, our beautiful flowers, the grandeur of trees and the green swathes of grassland. 

In our family, there’s a running joke where Fi will say about any random things someone mentions, “You’re a  . . .”  So they will say, “I think I’ll have a tofu-burger,” and she’ll respond, “You’re a tofu-burger!”  I know, I know – little things please little minds; still it makes us laugh, where’s the harm . . .

And when I hear someone talking about earth as “dirt”, it makes me want to say, “You’re dirt!”  But I guess they might not find it hilariously funny.

Still, in any case, we are dirt/earth/soil/dust/clay – “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” they remind us on Ash Wednesday.   In the Genesis stories of creation, the name “Adam” is a play on the Hebrew word for “earth” – so it means “Earthy” or “Earthling”, because God made Adam from earth, and then breathed into him the breath of life, Holy Spirit, breath of God.

In the last week or so I read with close interest Mark Sundeen’s book The Man Who Quit Money, about Daniel Suelo – I do recommend it.  I have learnt so much from it, and found Suelo’s life and philosophy has resonated so deeply with me.  But, he wasn’t always called “Suelo”; he started life as Daniel Shellabarger.   “Suelo” is Spanish for “soil”, and that’s why he adopted it as a name.  The same, really, as God’s choice of “Adam” – made of earth.

Turning these things over in my mind I remembered that “humble” and “humility” originate from “humus”, another word for earth.   In agricultural or gardening terminology, I think humus is leaf-mould – the dark, rich, peaty loam that accumulates on the forest floor.  I’m not sure about that, though.  And “humiles” is Latin for “low” – lowly/humble/earthy – they are facets of the same gem.

Lowliness, humility, earthiness, staying close to the root, Adam, dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return – such peace in that river of connection for me.  It is lovely to me that our earth-ness is ordained of God.   Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that to call the earth “the environment” takes us down a false intellectual trail.  It suggests that the earth is something separate and peripheral to ourselves – mere stage scenery for our personal drama.  But we are earth, we come from earth and return to earth – God called us “Earth”.  Every one of us is Suelo.

And I like the idea that humility belongs to that state of original blessing; clay moulded in the hands of God, receptive to that puff of life, his Holy Spirit, without which we are clay and no more than clay, and with which we become a living soul.  We have this treasure in vessels of clay.

Humiles . . . Eden people . . . earthy and simple . . . our being belongs to, shares in, all that lives.  As Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “We inter-are.”


365 366 Day 190 – Sunday July 8th

A useful T-shirt.  You can’t keep them all.

365 366 Day 189 – Saturday July 7th 

This was a gift too, from my beautiful mama, and travelled along with me for a number of years.  Then I gave it away.

365 366 Day 188 – Friday July 6th 

 This was my Last Sari.  Special to me because it was a gift from someone I love very much, as well as being exceptionally beautiful.  There are always reasons to keep things.  I decided to keep the love and the beauty, but I live very small these days, and space is at a premium.  So I let the sari go.  


Anonymous said...

clay is made with suelo and water...with it we can make utensils, vessels that are needed and useful to our everyday life.

Suelo is our foundation. Our strength comes from it because it is where Our Lord took a handful and created man.

I began to read excerpts of the book you mentioned, and it was pretty riveting, and a bit scary.

But nonetheless, it does make you think!

Peace be with you my friend,


Ember said...

Hiya :0)

I love your second paragraph there, about our foundation and strength. x

Pilgrim said...

One of the most wonderful smells in the world is that of muskeg in the Canadian bush, layers and layers of pine needles covering the earth, packed down over time, becoming soil. There must be many types and ways of going back to the earth.
It was interesting that Andy Griffith was buried so quickly after he died, this past week. I listened to Frederica Mathewes-Green's interview of an Orthodox funeral director (Itunes). They bury within 24 hours, in a pine box, without embalming, I think.

Ember said...

Hi Pilgrim :0)
Muskeg . . . that's a new word to me. Pine forests are not very popular in the UK because our Forestry Commission planted lots of them and people mutter that they aren't the right trees for here, and that all one species together like that isn't a good thing. But I love the pine forests (whether they're a Good Thing or not!)because of their mystery. There's a particular close hush in a pine forest as well as the usual sense of personality and presence in the trees, an magical depth of mystery that is most wonderful.

Paula said...

A portion of a poem by Al Qoyawayma, Hopi Potter and Sculptor:


We, the potters, are respectful of our clay.
I know that some of this clay may even contain the dust of my ancestors...
so how respectful I must be.

And I think, perhaps I too might become part of a vessel, some day!
What a thought... to become useful again and to reflect the Creator's beauty and love!
As I climb over the mesas and through the washes looking for clay,

I realize that there have been many before me who have taken the same steps
and have made the same search... and have seen the same beauty....
and I know that I am not alone in this search...

For I feel that I am one with the clay... one with my Creator...
one with every living thing.... even the grains of sand.

Pilgrim said...

Yes. You would not believe the aroma. Or the silence, "hush", as you refer to it. It's even more pronounced, up there. Like the Northern Lights, you have to experience it, first-hand.

Ember said...

Beautiful poem, Paula.

Yes Pilgrim, I can imagine the likeness in majesty and intensity is indeed comparable to the Northern Lights.


BLD in MT said...

Very interesting thoughts, Penelope.

My preference is to call it "the earth," but I am sure I use all the mentioned terms from time to time...even dirt. But, I do like "earth," best.

And we're fond of the "You're dirt, you're a tofu-burger," word play at my house as well.

Pilgrim said...

Our neighborhood is about 25% Indian and 25% Japanese. Many households include one or two grandparents. The grandparents sometimes wear traditional clothing, sometimes not. The parents never do, around the neighborhood.

Ember said...

Beth! I always call me Penelope when I talk to myself - "Come along, Penelope. It's high time you got out of bed!" etc. And my auntie calls me Penelope. And now you.

Hi Pilgrim - what wonderful cultures living alongside you - I love the dignity and self-discipline in both Indian and Japanese traditions.