Thursday, January 14, 2010

"There is No Natural Religion"

"Then the Lord God formed the man (of) dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul."

Dust. Dirt. Matter.

Wise words from an ancient peoples, tribes that wrestled with gods almost as imperfect as humans. Our souls were not ephemeral--they were made of matter, dust from the ground, the earth itself.

I obviously cannot (and would not even if I could) rail on about the supernatural in my classroom--but there's plenty to rail about the natural. Science is about the natural world, what we can perceive, and what we can imagine based on what we observe.

You cannot learn about science--it's a mindset, a way of discerning the world, an attempt to make sense of whatever this whatever is. Our minds have a bad habit of wandering around thought to thought, evading the world that might diminish its powers.

The real dirt, the stuff under your feet, the clay that made us--how much do your children know about it?

While Arne and his cronies push the race to the top, fusing the local into a mythical national standard, I push my lambs back home, back to the earth beneath their feet.

Go get dirty.

"He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only."

William Blake

I wanted to get some dirt a couple of days ago to restart my amaryllis. Most of the ground is frozen now, so I dragged in a large planter. I can use the thawed earth for the bulbs.

A few critters will wake up a bit confused, not used to January basements.

Most of the organisms will remain unnoticed by me. A few weeds will start stretching themselves skyward to an imagined sun.

A simple ceramic pot holds a universe too complex for me to grasp. I don't need to grasp it, though--I just plan to borrow it for awhile. When the amaryllis is done flowering, the living earth will be returned to the ground under a July sky.

We get lost in the abstract, in races to the top, in living full lives, in reaching our full potential, in making the big bucks. The more abstract the goal, the more likely you'll walk on concrete to get there. You'll need shoes, good ones. You may need an elevator to get to your office.

The more successful you are, the more layers between you and the dust beneath the city asphalt.

Race to the top? What's the hurry?

I want my children to slow down, to smell loamy earth rich with life, to walk barefoot far from the sidewalk. And should they bleed, as they will, their corpuscles will feed the life beneath their feet.

We'll stroll to the bottom, to the muck, and wallow with the ocean of critters who know nothing more than there is to know.


John Spencer said...

I wrote a blog post recently about shaking the dust off a vapor existence. It's been on my mind a lot, the notion that we came from clay, that breath (not "spirit") was blown into us, that our breath makes the plants grow.

I know my view on God are a little more orthodox than yours, but I am struck by our similar observations. I read the Sermon on the Mount outside on Sunday and the words took on new meaning in the desert winter.

My son doesn't know the word "injustice" or "transnationalism" or "hypotenuse" yet. But he knows "dirt" and "soil" and "clay" and "mud" and he can modify each with words like "sticky" and "gooey" and "dusty." (Yes, he believes there is "sticky dirt" and "dusty dirt")

They get excited about the Romaine lettuce that's just about ready to pick. Sometime in the next few nights we'll eat a dinner that comes from the garden and they'll put the part we don't use into compost.

I'd love to get the educrats in the backyard and ask them to describe the dirt. I have a hunch my kiddos have a more expansive dirt vocabulary than them and as long as our food comes from the ground (and, unless it's hydroponics, I'm pretty sure it will) I'm pretty sure that true wisdom comes from understanding this.

If we recover the root of the word economy, we will realize that this world is not flat and that what we consume came from somewhere. My two year old gets that. I don't think Arne does.

Okay, I'll step off my soapbox now.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I read (and loved)your post, and may well have been influenced by it.

I have harassed lots of people trying to pin down the definition of nefesh, or soul, as it starts in the Hebrew Bible. I've gotten many shades of the same theme, none of them consistent with the way the major organized Xian religions around here operate (though not inconsistent with the original pre-Constantine clans).

I may need to separate the religious from the science here, but the intersection does help me hone what's real and what matters. None of this discussion, of course, happens in the classroom, nor should it. I do not share this blog with my students. I do not share religious views in class, and I am careful to draw the line.

It also helps that I have not a clue about anything beyond the sensible, and even our understanding of the natural world requires elaborate models (and myths in the broadest sense) to keep ourselves together.

Kate said...

Good morning, Michael -
It's interesting that you are thinking about all of this now; I too am thinking about the awakening of the earth (and my compost pile though I know it is happy within, it seems a peeling-sicle right now) and the thawing of the dog poop that is inevitable in the January thaw. But also as my students begin their look at the history of religion (mono and polytheism) in the room next door. This is always a troubling time for some students - they are so ready to think abstractly, but this is a tough one for them.

But I know the god of small miracles (compost and the spinach seeds under the blanket of mulch) and of large (my daughters).

Of course I have poem. Song of Myself from old Uncle Walt - Section 2:
" Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the
earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of
all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self."

Kelly said...

Thank you.