So. I've been out a while. School and all that. But I'm still thinking about dirt, which I'm sure is exciting to a total of one person in this world. Namely me.
Dirt is life and death: death out of life, life out of death. When things die they hit ground. Bunches of little beasts eat them, die, and fall apart into dust. One of Danny Boyle’s movies told me that 80% of dust is human skin. Everything dies into dirt. Dirt is death. Every living thing pulls its life from the ground. Dead dogs are eaten by worms and flies and members of phylum Zygomycota. They die, and crumble into dust. A man comes, and dead pieces of him fall off in invisible flakes of skin while he cuts the dirt in two with an iron sword. The man drops in round balls that look dead. Water drops fall from clouds and shatter on the dirt. Seeds take nutrients from the dirt and live – they pull death from the soil and make it green life. Months later, this plant too will die, its hard labor ripped away and the stalk cut down. And the man’s wife will grind and knead and feed her family with bread, bread grown from death, life out of the dust.
We become dirt. Dirt looks better when we adorn it, like a beautiful woman wearing diamonds. It’s a mutually beneficial existence. Dirt in the wild is great, but not like earth that is cared for, tilled, and cultivated. It’s not the same. At the same time, the soil of overworked, overfarmed land is one of the saddest sights in the world. Drained of all life, it holds no promise, only sorrow. It’s true, though, that the untouched dirt of a national park is good like the Sabbath is good, that the pristine white sand of Pensacola is beautiful, but we need six times more earth to balance it out. Good earth. Dark earth. Black with minerals and nutrients and promise and growth and rot and hard work and death and life. We are becoming to dirt.
Dirt becomes us. A man is at home with his fingers in the dirt. Perhaps it’s my Southern roots, but I think there’s universal respect for a farmer, for a man who plunges his hands in the soil. Those who don’t like getting their hands dirty aren’t people I want to be around, speaking in the most general way possible. We need to be touching dirt. There’s a labor of Hercules in which he tries to defeat Antaeus, the giant who is immortal while touching earth, that should ring true for us (perhaps far truer than the Enlightenment would have us think – are we not just that way?). After all, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Why is it that the most disturbing shot in every Western the toes of the cowboy’s boots dangling three inches off the ground beneath the lynching tree? Why does it always work? Why do people in space begin to deteriorate from the inside out? We need dirt to survive. If we leave it for long it leaks out our bones and muscles and we die. There’s a reason being hanged is the most disgraceful possible death in almost every ancient culture. Go, says the judge, go be pulled away from what makes you human, what you are most like in the universe, and be held there until you can’t breathe anymore while everyone watches you. Dirt is becoming to us.
God became dirt. Infinite beauty and power and love was bound and wrapped and pressed into clay that walked around on the earth and was hungry and hurt and cried and grew angry. Matter has never been created or destroyed, the great lords of science tell us. But the apostles chuckle and say that they’re wrong. A few trillion molecules are missing from this universe. Because Christ rolled away the stone from His resting place in the earth, and stepped forth in a body of dirt made new. And it’s not here any more. And so I must believe that there is dirt missing from this earth. It’s remade, renewed, purified of all remnants and scars of death, and sits at the right hand of the Father.
Dirt becomes us. Dirt was what God took and breathed life into. Dirt is what makes up our skin, our bones, and that little thing next to your small intestine called appendix. Dirt is made up of molecules, and some of those molecules are sucked up by roots into most everything. Grass. Wheat. Grapes. Some of those molecules go into cows after being grass. Wheat molecules become flour, then bread, and the grape similarly becomes wine. All of our food, at some point, came from dirt, and so all that we physically are came, sooner or later, from dirt. Dirt makes us better – Christ healed the blind man with mud. He called Zacchaeus out of sin into life: out of a tree and onto the dirt.
We become dirt. When we are done fighting with air, pulling it down and letting it out of ourselves, we are laid to rest. We sleep in the dirt, surrounded by the dust that we were. There we give up trying to hold the dirt we have. We give it back. And that’s the economy of the Gospel. Give up what you have. Give everything you have to others, and it will come back to you. Give up your pride to Christ and He will give you a real reason to be proud. Give up your strength to the dirt, from whence it came, give your bones back to the ground. And, one day – even so, come quickly Lord Jesus! – dirt will be raised up and pressed into a true body, one without decay or sin or death, and the breath of the Spirit will fill it with flame and purified, clean, unshatterably beautiful, you will stand made new in the World made new. An Earth made without sin, made with no thought of death, on dirt washed pure by the blood of Christ.