This reflection was originally posted in the monthly Bartimeaus Cooperative Ministries’ e-newsletter.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life… It is impossible to contemplate the life of the soil for very long without seeing it as analogous to the life of the spirit. No less than the faithful of religion is the good farmer mindful of the persistence of life through death, the passage of energy through changing forms.”
– Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America
Remember that you are earth and to earth you shall return. These words may seem out of place liturgically as we enter into this new year of the Christian calendar marked by the season of Advent. It is a phrase typically heard during Lent, yet it is through this reminder that we are given a gift. It is the gift of darkness. It is the gift of earth.
The poet Mary Oliver writes, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” During the season of advent we intentionally recognize the presence of darkness, however, we often spend more time focusing on the light that blooms out of the darkness that we fail to understand the gift of the darkness.
As a constantly failing farmer, I am ever more aware of the color of the earth we walk upon and the soil we plant our seeds in. Last week the Abundant Table’s farmer, Reyna, and I spent quite a bit of our weekly planning meeting putting our hands in the soil and inspecting its health. Healthy soil is dark soil. It is earth that is filled with micro-organisms from plants and other matter living and “dead” (think compost), and it is in the darkness of this mini-ecosystem that life is forming, waiting to break forth.
In many ways, we could imagine that earth and darkness serve as the womb of God. A woman’s womb is another mini-ecosystem that has the potential to foster life in the depth of darkness. In fact, the darkness is teeming with life that is giving life to more life. This is the power of advent. It is in the darkness that the potential for light even exists.
Let us spend this Advent season together welcoming the mystery of the darkness that holds the paradox in which the brokenness and death of our world turn into light and life. Let us remember the seed that is growing beneath rich dark soil and the human life that is emerging from the dark waters of the womb. Let us remember that we are earth, and let us actively await the coming of Immanuel (God with Us) who brings the suffering of the earth hope because our Immanuel also grows from the dark soils of the earth and emerges from the dark waters of the womb.