Genesis 2: 7 – 9a
‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ they say! And our culture does its best to avoid dirt. We live in one of the most sanitised civilizations in history, and these days we’re more particular than ever about cleanliness.
During these last few difficult years many people have taken the opportunity to spend time tending to their gardens. I enjoy gardening, but I don’t have enough time to really get to grips with it. But when I get the chance and I’m among the weeds and the worms, I feel aglow from the fresh air and the satisfaction of being engaged with the earth and I feel all the better for it.
And God engages in and with dirt and soil and muck. It’s the very stuff of life. The writer of the Genesis chapter 2 story tells us that God formed the first human out of dirt, the dust of the ground. The name Adam means ‘man’ in Hebrew and derives from the word ‘adamah’, meaning ground or earth. We are intrinsically linked to the ground beneath our feet, we depend on it for our survival, we need food to live, and food needs soil to grow.
Yet this link is being severed. Think about the last meal you had. Where did it come from? Not the shop you bought it in, where was the food actually grown? If you had meat – where did those animals live? What did they eat? How well were they cared for? Many of us don’t know the answers to these questions.
Wendell Berry, a poet, philosopher and farmer, said that ‘eating is an agricultural act’. Everything we eat was farmed by someone, somewhere.
Several stories about Jesus’ life centre around food and drink. In one of them, his disciples had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee, and when they approached the shore, they saw Jesus sitting there, next to a fire. He invited them to have breakfast with him. They gave him the fish they’d caught, which they ate along with some bread. This post-resurrection story is told in chapter 21 of John’s Gospel. It must have been quite a meal! Fish straight out of the lake that they lived by. Bread baked that morning, probably just a stone’s throw away, by people known to them, from wheat cultivated on land just outside the village.
How do you normally eat breakfast? For me, it’s often grabbed in a hurry, without thought. Food has become something to fuel our busy lives, rather than something precious that connects us to the land, to each other, and perhaps even to God.
Sometimes we’re guilty of thinking that ‘spirituality’ only happens at church, or that it’s something ethereal and ‘out there’. But God cares here, wherever ‘here’ is, and whenever ‘now’ is. Your kitchen is a space of learning and prayer, as is your garden.
God has provided the resources to meet our everyday needs, and this includes the food we eat. Look at the ingredients on a bottle of Tomato Ketchup – and consider where they have come from and who produced the ingredients and the product. Pray for those people.
Harvest-time is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of food and soil. It’s one Christian festival that has managed to avoid consumerism. It’s about gratitude. At harvest, we give thanks for what God has given us through the soil, we reflect on the fact that many people don’t enjoy the abundance of food that we do, and so we give back.
Life is fragile. And the soil that sustains us is fragile too. Soil fertility is decreasing with intensive farming upsetting the delicate ecological balance. The United Nations has warned that, at the current rates of degradation, the world’s topsoil could be gone within just 60 years – a shocking thought.
The ground is sacred, and not to be taken for granted. This harvest be reminded of the precious gifts that God has given us, and recommit yourself to protecting them – for ourselves and for future generations.
Creator God, thank you for the food that nourishes us, and for the soil that enables it to grow.
Help us to not take these for granted.
We lift before you those who don’t enjoy the abundance that we have,
and pray for your provision for them.
Touch our hearts and minds to encourage us into a fair sharing of your abundance.
In Jesus’ name