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Scott’s Column: Dirty Hands

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
May 26 2020

It’s gardening season.  And that has truly been one of the blessings of the quarantine.  One of the few things to invade the mundane and now boring cycle of the days.  At our house we’ve planted our flower pots and our garden beds.  We early on stuck seeds in the ground and later our vegetables.  And we’ve been tending to our lawn and watching our flowers bloom.  The irises are currently opening.  Except for chives, we are awaiting our first harvests, which looks like it might be radishes.

Fortunately, since his earliest years, our son has enjoyed the activities of gardening.  He takes great pride in his tools and great delight in the growth of plants and the blooming of flowers.  He enjoys finding a worm or roly poly.  This year he’s even started helping mow the lawn.

Getting your hands dirty is said to be good for you.  That even chemicals in the ground help to battle depression.  So, we shouldn’t be surprised at the spiritual connection with the ground.

My favorite poet Wendell Berry, being a farmer, is deeply drawn to the spiritual meaning of dirt.  I think of the opening lines of that beautiful poem “The Sycamore,”

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.

This connection between dirt and spirit has a long legacy.  The ground is a key metaphor in the writings of the Medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart.  For Eckhart, our ground is the core and center of our being, a place of pure possibility.  He preached, “Go into your own ground and there act, and the works that you do there will all be living.”

Our ground is, most importantly, where we connect with God for “God’s ground and my ground is the same ground.”  In another sermon Eckhart declared, “Now know, all our perfection and our holiness rests in this: that a person must penetrate and transcend everything created and temporal and all being and go into the ground that has no ground.  We pray our dear Lord God that we may become one and indwelling, and may God help us into the same ground.”

No wonder, then, that I find so much of gardening to be contemplative.  The other day I was cutting some  grass along the edge with small trimming scissors and Michael said, “We have tools that are better for that.”  I responded, “Yes, they are more efficient, but this is more contemplative.”

The opportunity to slowly work at tending what grows is one reason I take pleasure in weeding.  It is an act of contemplation, especially on a mild day when the sun is shining and the birds are singing.

Please take this chance of extra spare time to get your hands dirty.  Let that be another opportunity to turn this moment into a spiritual experience.