ASH WEDNESDAY, LENT, AND SOIL

From dust you have come, to dust you shall return. A look at our connection to the soil.
By: Rev. Phillip Dieke,
Associate Pastor - Discipleship and Digital Ministry.


The Soil
A couple years ago I heard Jeff Tkach on Rob Bell’s podcast, The RobCast. Jeff is the Chief Impact Officer at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania. In the interview he opens by talking about a teaspoon of healthy soil. In a teaspoon of healthy soil there are nine billion microorganisms. Nine billion. More microorganisms in one teaspoon of healthy soil than people on the entire planet. 
This Ash Wednesday, like many other things in our lives, is unlike any we have experienced before. Our Ash Wednesday worship will make it a full year of Christian holidays that we will have “celebrated” differently than ever before. Not together sharing meals, lighting candles, singing physically in the presence of one another. An entire year interrupted from our normal routines and rituals.
We have scratched our heads, as have many in the church world, trying to figure out what to do with Ash Wednesday. One of the most impactful aspects of Ash Wednesday is the tactile, physical experience. Walking or rolling down the aisle, approaching another person, their thumb freshly dipped in the ash of palm branches. That thumb making the sign of the cross on your forehead reminding you “from ash you have come, to ash you shall return.” 

Ash.
Forehead.
A symbol.
A reminder of our mortality.


This statement of ashes is taken from Genesis 3:19, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Hebrew word for “dust” here is afar. Now, I never took Hebrew (maybe one day!), but I do know that afar is different from adamah - the word typically translated as “earth,” or “soil.” Genesis 2:7 tells us “the Lord God formed man (adam) from the dust (afar) of the ground (adamah). There is clearly a play on words here in the original Hebrew, which actually goes even deeper as the Hebrew word dam means blood. Again, I don’t know Hebrew, so my friend Dr. Marcie Lenk (who taught our Advent lesson in December) explained it as such: “Adam’s (physical) life force is dam, and Adam’s body is formed out of the dust (afar) of adamah.” She continued saying, “Dust is also important - Genesis 3:19 connects earth and dust as the physical beginnings and ends of human life.”
Hebrew lesson over… for now.

Age-Old Truth, Reaffirmed
Why take you through this Hebrew word exercise? The work of the Rodale Institute is affirming the Jewish creation narrative. We are connected to the ground, the soil, even the dust. There are studies that show we have changes at the neuron level when we simply touch soil. The problem is we continue to become more and more removed from the soil. We live in urban/concrete jungles, our food is now managed more by chemistry than biology, and since the invention of the plow (some 150 years ago) humans have degraded half of the world’s top soil. Rodale predicts if we continue to farm the same way we have been, we only have 60 more growing seasons. Sixty! After 10’s of 1,000’s of years of the earth producing, we may only have 60 growing seasons left. 
No longer will we have the dust of the soil. We will only have the dust.
What does this mean for us? Practically speaking there will be less time between “from dust you have come” and “to dust you shall return.” 
Healthy People
The Rodale Institute believes their job as organic farmers is to create healthy people. Not “how much can we produce?” or “how great can our yields be?” Instead, they believe:
Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People
This is what motivates them. This is why they get out of bed each day. Why they continue to fight for change in the farming industry. To establish healthy farming practices that nurture healthy soil, that produce healthy food, that sustain healthy people.
Reconnect
Because we have divorced ourselves from the soil, this year during Lent, we want to invite you to reconnect. We will not be together for Ash Wednesday. You won’t get to walk or roll down the aisle. Nobody will be there to physically place ashes on your forehead in the sign of the cross. But. We invite you to get some dirt, and soil would be even better. If you can’t find either of those, grab a leaf, a rock, a blade of grass. Whatever can help you connect back to the adamah from which you have come. During our Ash Wednesday service you will be invited to hold that in your hand as you are reminded, “from dirt you have come and to dirt you will return.” 
Then, in addition to that. We invite you to plant something in the soil. Whether that is a small pot inside your house, or outside in a garden. If you, like me, have no idea where to even begin, Victoria has suggested North Haven Gardens as a resource. They even have a document for “North Texas Vegetable Planting Dates.” If you aren’t in Dallas, check with a local nursery. They will advise you on what is best to plant this time of year, and I’m sure they’d be happy to sell it to you as well (Live Local!). 
This Ash Wednesday, you are invited to reconnect with the soil from which you have come. Hold it in your hands and also plant a seed in it. Over the next six weeks we encourage you to tend to your seed. As you water it be reminded that soil is teeming with life and you are taking part as a co-creator with God, birthing new life from the dirt of the ground. 
Note: I encourage you to pick a seed that will produce in approximately six weeks. You can do your own research or here are some suggestions: radishes, spinach, baby kale, lettuce, arugula, or microgreens. There are also flowers that will grow within six weeks if you prefer to go that route. 

Finally, we are also inviting you to join us in a Lenten devotional. Our Lenten Worship Series is: MORE THAN JUST A DAY. Each week during worship we’ll explore an aspect of the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. You are invited to read along using Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection. You can order it on Amazon, or find it in a local bookstore (again, Live Local!). 

Bonus:
If you choose to participate in growing something in the soil, we want to see it. My suggestion is to read the daily devotional each day, pick one word from the devotion that caught your attention or really stood out to you. Snap a photo of your soil (even if nothing is growing yet), post the photo along with the word you have chosen (if you want to get creative you can add the word to the photo using canva.com). When you post, use hashtag #Lent and #LentenLandscape so we can all follow along with each other’s growing! We have started a Facebook Group to share in conversation, to share our Lenten experience together. Join the group here. 
From dust you have come, to dust you will return. In the meantime, let’s return to the soil - teeming with life - so we may not only be reminded of our mortality, but our connection to the earth, to adamah.
Blessings on your Lenten journey.

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