Thoughts on dirt

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have just started William Bryant Logan’s book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth and am already getting caught up in a sense of wonder and gratitude. This bodes well! This is the sort of thing we reader-types live for. Here’s an excerpt from the prologue:

How can I stand on the ground every day and not feel its power? How can I live my life stepping on this stuff and not wonder at it? […]

Recently, I have been reading Exodus, wondering about Moses and the burning bush. Moses, it is written, “turns aside to see a wonder,” a bush that burns but is not consumed. Throughout my life, I had thought this a ridiculous passage. Why should God get Moses’ attention by such outlandish means? I mean, why couldn’t He just have boomed, “Hey, Moses!” the way He would later call to the great king, “Hey, Samuel!”

Now I know why. The truth, when really perceived and not simply described, is always a wonder. Moses does not see a technicolor fantasy. He sees the bush as it really is. He sees the bush as all bushes actually are.

There is in biology a formula called, “the equation of burning.” It is one of the fundamental pair of equations by which all organic life subsists. The other one, “the equation of photosynthesis,” describes the way the plants make foods out of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. The equation of burning describes how plants (and animals) unlock the stored sunlight and turn it into the heat energy that fuels their motion, their feeling, their thought, or whatever their living consists of.

All that is living burns. This is the fundamental fact of nature. And Moses saw it with his two eyes, directly. That glimpse of the real world–of the world as it is known to God–is not a world of isolate things, but of processes in concert.

God tells Moses, “Take off your shoes, because the ground where you are standing is holy ground.” He is asking Moses to experience in his own body what the burning bush experiences: a living connection between heaven and earth, the life that stretches out like taffy between our father the sun and our mother the earth. If you do not believe this, take off your shoes and stand in the grass or in the sand or in the dirt.


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