“And to the man He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
“The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:17-21, New Revised Standard Version)”
Dirt is the flesh of the earth, and rain is the blood that gives life to the body of this space we inhabit. There’s something about walking in my garden after a spring shower the reaches into the deepest, most primal side of what I am as a human while simultaneously connecting me deeply with something cosmic and beyond yet somehow ever so gently present and organic and kind. A walk through a freshly tended and showered garden flings wide the doors of both Heaven and Earth, facilitating a meeting and a momentary embrace that reminds me that both are somehow supposed to be my home.
As the rain settles and evaporates, the soil quickly turns from a soft, cool welcome mat of potentiality and life-giving fruitfulness to a dry, jumbled pit of dust and rock. Without care and a good deal of work, weeds will sprout and consume all the good that the garden contains. That care and work produces sunburns, blisters, callouses, scrapes, scratches, sweat that rolls down your back and into your nether-regions, and the unruly, blunt pebbles that snicker at you as you slouch in the dirt to dump them from your shoes. Taking care of the ground has its rewards, but the earth can also be a harsh, willful, cruel whore of a thing to watch after. Eventually, life on and with this fickle mistress will kill me, and I will be laid to rest in her flesh only to be completely consumed by her in order to feed some other life that sprouts from the crust of your grave.
Regardless of what you believe about the stories of creation and the fall of humanity in Genesis, I think the parallels to our own lives are worth pointing out. God gave us access to Himself and His good intentions for this world from the beginning. He only asked that we divine our understandings of what is good and what isn’t from an intimate knowledge of who He is and who He created us to be, a knowledge that only comes from spending time creating and tending and mastering good things with Him. All of us have chosen to eat forbidden fruit, and why wouldn’t we? Relying on community as a source for truth and validation takes work. We can more easily define our own reality, allowing “how I want things to be” to replace “how things really are and ought to be”. Eating forbidden fruit easily invades all of our being, overpowering and swallowing all that we were put here to become, leaving us naked and ashamed and hiding from the One who created us to co-create, co-tend, and co-master life with Him from the beginning. Eventually, our thirst for ignorant independence bleeds out into everything else, polluting everything we touch and warping what we were created to be and do. Though eating the fruit didn’t kill us, we become the living dead, groaning for the life we abandoned, thirsting to escape a life of self-serving, hellacious toil. Consequence denies us access to the life we were born to live, and we are cast from the paradise of our ancient vocation. But God, in His loving care continues to provide for us. He calls us from our hiding places, promises that He has a plan to pave a road back to paradise in spite of the justice of consequences, and, seeing our vulnerability and shame, provides a sacrifice to clothe us and protect us on our way forward.
The Christian life, when informed by the life and teachings of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the road leading back to paradise. Jesus’ meeting our self-seeking, violent, manipulative, shameful vulnerability at the cross, saying he’ll take all that to show the truth of God’s self-sacrificing love for His children, then flipping our brokenness on its head by turning it into his victory…. That’s the sacrifice that guides us home.
As Lent begins and ashes are administered, we are reminded of our brokenness and mortality. In repentance and mourning, we turn our eyes towards the death and resurrection of Jesus, prayerfully remembering what his loving sacrifice accomplished on our behalf, and deeply hoping for the day when he raises us to enter new life in a renewed world where Heaven and Earth are wholly reunited.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you’ll return.
The ground we are tending is harsh, willful, and cruel, but it’s also created and tended by One so far above it but so humble that He cares for it and wants us to help Him. The work is hard. The reward is great. Tend on brothers and sisters. Easter is coming.