Saturday, February 1, 2014

From My Nature Journal: What Could Be More Humble than Dirt?

What could possibly be more humble than dirt?

Yes, it's potting soil... It is winter, after all!
Perhaps it’s a strange thing, but I lately have been thinking about dirt. Not the kind on clothes, mind you, nor that slung by seedy politicians these days or celebrated in the media. But good ol’ soil dirt, of the plain ground variety, what we trod upon, usually without thinking. Where would we be without dirt?

Humus is another word for it. Where would we be without that? From it comes our very existence, created from the dust as we were (Genesis 2:7), yet also sustained by it through crops and meat and as filter for our drink. As if that weren’t incredible enough, did you know that there are more organisms in a tablespoon of rich topsoil than there are people on the planet? Or that soil sequesters ten percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions? Or that it contains stardust from distant suns? Or that fifty percent of soil is made up of air and water, the rest being mineral and organic material? Yet, I confess I actually don’t know if what I have always told my kids is true, that one has to eat at least six pounds of dirt before they die; Google says it’s only one.

You’ve got to get pretty low to appreciate dirt, and of course, it needs to get pretty low itself to do its best work: it’s the refuse of the world that ends up nourishing it in such a way that it can nourish us. Dare I say it? Things that we wouldn’t touch – decaying matter, organic garbage, the leftover substance that both beasts and human beings void – become the stuff of life in dirt, creating the staff of life for our benefit. Amazing.

Interestingly, the word humility comes from the root word humus. (Hmmm… root word… appropriate.) Does humility have something to do with dirt? Maybe there are some correlations here. The one gifted with true humility becomes as the soil. Good, fertile humus can be taken for granted. We walk on it and it supports us, quietly, without complaint. But yet it is also ever ready to accept the seed, help it germinate, then provide the nutrients for growth. Do you know people like that? I sure do. And I am deeply grateful for them.

The one gifted with true humility
becomes as the soil…

So I guess you realize by now that this essay is not so much about dirt as about something else, the gift of humility. You say you’d never want to be treated like dirt? Perhaps at further thought, that cliché is not always the insult we normally would assume.

When we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world... (1 Corinthians 4:13)

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things... to bring to nothing what the world considers important. (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry,
revised for my blog January 31, 2014

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