Listen to the soil

It is probably the first time in history that cold sober scientists are the ones making apocalyptic type predictions, rather than religious fanatics. Such is the devastating evidence of climate breakdown. The science says humanity must rapidly and radically change the way we live if human life (and many other forms of life) are to have any long-term prospects of survival. Yet the urgent changes necessary to save life remain largely off the agendas of those in power. Our refusal to change is selfish, stubborn and stupid. It is also suicidal. Sampson-like we are bringing down the roof on ourselves.

“The fierce urgency of now” demands we “unsuicide”. This is the dramatic word that Richard Powers uses in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Overstory

His exquisite novel is an invitation to enter into a learnership relationship with trees: “The tree is saying things, in words before words.” He humbles us when he asks: “Which is more childish, naïve, romantic, or mystical: the belief that we can get away with making Earth revolve around our personal appetites and fantasies, or the belief that a vast, multi-million-pronged project four and a half billion years old deserves a little reverent humility?”

To unsuicide is to live in reverent humility for all of life. It is to enter into a learnership relationship with the plants, as we heard last week: “Ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you.” (Job 12:7-8). This week we are invited to go even deeper and let the soil be our teacher. We are to put our ears to the ground to listen:

“The fields are devastated, the ground mourns.” (Joel 1:10).

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left.” (Isaiah 24:4-6).

“How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away, and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’ … Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, they have trampled down my portion, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no one lays it to heart.” (Jeremiah 12:4, 10-11).

When we put our ear to the ground / to the soil / to the land we hear that the ground grieves. The soil sobs. The land laments. The soil does so as a result of bearing the weight of our sins (our deathly ways). For YHWH the liberation struggle of the soil is as important as the liberation struggle of the Hebrew slaves because all of life is interconnected. Therefore, just as YHWH heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves and worked for their freedom so we read that YHWH hears the cries of the soil and calls us to work for the soil’s liberation. And if we don’t, “even the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). This is our unsuiciding work.

During our CMM Chat at 11h00 on 20/09/20 we will discuss the incredible interrelatedness between ourselves and the soil. If you would like to receive the zoom link for this conversation, please email: welcome@cmm.org.za

PS: Scripture this week is Genesis 4:1-16. We will also look at other scriptures, so please have your Bible handy for Sunday’s Chat.

Grace,
Alan

PPS: Some soil stats:

A teaspoon of healthy soil holds more tiny organisms than there are people on earth. And, it’s not just about quantity; the diversity of this same teaspoon has been compared to that of the Amazon rainforest. This is an impressive quarter of all of Earth’s biodiversity. Some of these organisms are visible to the eye—things like earthworms, beetles, and ants—while others are impossible to discern from other elements in the soil—such as bacteria, algae, fungi, nematodes, and many more. In fact, soil organisms are so numerous and abundant that scientists are still in the very early stages of identifying and understanding them. These little creatures are major players in soil health and should be respected for the hard and important work they do.

When talking about soil health, we think it’s helpful to think of soil as a “macro-organism” or living network made up of smaller lifeforms. Soil is a complex web of interrelated organisms that rely on and support one another. It’s an ecosystem. Some use the analogy of a human body to show the importance of each (organ)ism to the whole. Soil is made up of these hard-working organisms along with organic matter, minerals like sand, clay, and rock particles—the non-living “dirt”—and the air and water in the spaces between. The health of soils is all about the balance and diversity of these components.

Another thing that makes this ecosystem unique is that most of these organisms don’t merely exist in the soil, they physically create it. They break down organic materials like dead leaves—burrowing, eating, and churning them up—resulting in the rich humus that crops and other plants need to grow. We (and all living things) rely on these organisms’ role in growing the food we eat and, increasingly, the potential for drawing harmful carbon dioxide gas out of the air.

Soil is a nonrenewable resource, meaning it cannot be created within a human’s lifespan. Unhealthy soils are subject to wind and water erosion, blown and washed away to areas where they cannot be used for agriculture. Globally, some scientists estimate that we have only 60 years of farming left, if we continue to degrade our soils. These facts are an important indication of the need for regenerative agriculture and building up soil carbon.

 

and you will be made to eat grass …

Garden and I – 13 September 2020 by Athol McLaggan – Sunday’s CMM Chat/input

My Octopus Teacher is a mesmerising documentary that came out on Netflix this past week. It is the story of one person addressing his burn-out with the “social prescription”* of submerging himself daily into the kelp-forest-waters off Simon’s Town. During his daily practice of underwater attentiveness, he meets an Octopus … as one does. Consistency, curiosity, vulnerability, gentleness, trust and bravery alchemise over a year into steadfast (sucking) friendship. It turns out to be a human-healing friendship. The human student learns from the Octopus Teacher how to be more fully human.

You may not know, but this powerfully healing “social prescription” comes straight out of the scriptures:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
            the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
            and the fish of the sea will declare to you.” 

                                                            ~ Job 12:7-8

Here the human is clearly instructed to be in a learnership relationship with land, creature and plant. In short, the text is a call for humans to be humble. We are to start with confession. The confession of our ignorance: to know that whatever we know is less than all that we do not know and therefore we are to proceed with caution and care (read Miraculous Magnolia again)! As T.S. Eliot writes: “In order to arrive at what / you do not know / you must go by a way which / is the way of ignorance.”

Instead of beginning with confession (conscious awareness of our ignorance), humanity more often than not has begun with praise. Praise of ourselves. As a result we are unashamedly human supremacists in both belief and behaviour. Religion, economics and education are co-opted to promote the lie of separate development: that we can develop separately from the earth, forgetting that we do not live on the earth but from the earth. This is murderous and suicidal. Recent research shows how deadly humanities refusal to walk humbly is: “Global populations of wildlife have plunged by 68% since 1970. Two years ago, the figure stood at 60%. We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet.”

Though time is against us, redemption (liberated life for Life) is still possible. We can still change from arrogant abusiveness to walk the way of humble care. This possibility is powerfully told in the book of Daniel Chapter 4. Here we see that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, experiences a Job-like wake-up-call. As a result of his increasingly arrogant abusiveness to all life forms, his kingdom crumbles and he is brought to his knees. Remember: arrogant abusiveness is murderous and suicidal.

Now read Daniel 4:15-16:

But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
      with a band of iron and bronze,
      in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
      and let his lot be with the animals of the field
     in the grass of the earth. 
Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
     and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
    And let seven times pass over him. 

I have always viewed these verses as Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment or debilitating self-imposed consequence, but now I read them as his “social prescription” graciously given by Yhwh for his healing and the liberation of life within the land. “You will be made to eat grass like oxen” (v25). Basically, Yhwh tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is grounded. He is to learn again that his life, like that of the oxen, is dependent on the grass, the soil and the dew from heaven that nurtures them. And we read that as Nebuchadnezzar took on this daily practice of grounded attentiveness his “reason returned” to him (v36). Then walking humbly, he returned to the “works of truth and the ways of justice” (v37). “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum.

On Sunday we will continue this theme at our 11:11 CMM Chat. If you would like the link for the Zoom meeting, please email welcome@cmm.org.za. This Sunday the “guru of greenery” Athol McLaggan will be sharing with us.

Grace,
Alan

* “Social prescription” – refer to last week’s reflection.

 

 

 

Miraculous Magnolia

A brief summary of Dr Dee Paterson-Jones’ input on Sunday 6 September during the Sunday Chat

In the light of our troubled times of major climate shifts and increasingly divisive politics I have turned increasingly to nature for inspiration on our human condition, hoping to rediscover some fundamental truths.

Over the past few months, I have spent many hours in the garden, next to a favourite tree, watching its quiet form and reflecting on what I can learn from its subtle character.

As my empathy for my tree grew, I began to see with new eyes many things that previously I had taken for granted. Unlike human beings my tree, like most plants, is rooted to the ground. Its footprint is small, it is flexible but unyielding during life’s storms. It provides a home for birds, lizards, spiders, and insects which co-exist in its branches. My tree can only be described as giving, a powerful reminder that I should strive to be the same.

 

Through the winter my tree’s stark shape was laid bare. Outwardly resting, it was quietly gathering
its reserves for the coming spring. It is the best time to see the uniqueness of each one of its kind. Some are scarred, others stunted or lopsided. Nevertheless, each retains the essence of its kind and continues to grow in their various ways for the duration of its lifetime, often far outstripping us by centuries. They stay resilient and adaptable. This inspires me to pursue a path of inward growth till the very end.

 

 

 

When spring arrives, I find my tree transformed. It is in full flower, bearing beautiful, carmine pink chalices at the branch tips. They identify it as being a magnolia. Looking into them I see the imprint of their ancestral form which first appeared nearly 95 million years ago. I am in awe that such fragile beauty predates the origin of man by so many eons. Human’s arrival on Earth is recent, only 200,000 years ago. Today magnolias are spoken of in South Africa as alien exotics, but these plants evolved
at a time when there were no borderlines on Earth. We are cautioned to be careful of how we classify things, particularly with respect to those of our own species who are treated as aliens.

 

 

As we approach summer, fresh green leaves emerge. They are nature’s wonders, the powerhouses of the natural world that contain myriads of chloroplasts which can be likened to microscopic factories that run on solar power. Their raw materials are water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which they convert into oxygen and sugar. These carbon-rich sugars provide the building blocks for all living things, and the gift of oxygen allows all life to grow.

 

 

The origin of photosynthesis ranks as one of the most significant events in the history of life. Dating back to 400 million years ago it led to Earth’s skies becoming blue and the land more habitable. We now know that it evolved as a result of a symbiotic partnership between chlorophyll-carrying bacteria and the earliest plant prototypes. The bacterium provided the benefits of its green pigments and the proto-plant gave the bacterium protection in return. This triggered a massive increase in new land plant species which spread across the world. One can think of this unique symbiotic partnership as laying down the first thread in what has become the web of life. At one level this suggests that we should not judge others on superficial appearances. At a deeper level, one can only be filled with awe at the energy, interdependence, and beauty of Nature.

When thinking about the deep history of life on Earth, I turn to the Bible to seek out the timeless truths it contains. The symbolism of Moses and the Burning Bush that remains unconsumed immediately comes to mind. It speaks of an ever-present God, symbolised by a vibrating white light, and an energy that flows from God through the entire living world. In today’s context
I see this as a powerful reminder that we should live our lives sustainably and in balance with Nature, ensuring that there is
enough for all — the message so wonderfully revealed in the Lord’s Prayer.

Dr. Dee Paterson-Jones