Considering the Lilies – A discussion

Zoe, Beth, and Rob sit down for a discussion on creation care theology

By Zoe Matties – Manitoba Program Manager

July 4, 2024

Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with my friends Beth Downey-Sawatsky and Rob Kwade for the saint benedict’s table podcast. We discussed the beautiful poem, Being the Earth Creature by our keynote speaker at Consider the Lilies conference, Sylvia Keesmaat.

Listen to the podcast or read on for a small taste of some of the things we talked about in this discussion:

Beth: Keesmaat begins, and spends a lot of time throughout this piece, addressing the problems attendant on what you might call ‘separatist spirituality,’ this whole “in the world but not of the world” idea. There’s a lot of it here in the Canadian prairie bible belt where we are, but Wendell Berry also addresses it pretty directly out of his context in rural Kentucky, which is kind of a mix, culturally, between The South and The Midwest. In his essay “A Native Hill,” Berry writes that

“Such religion as has been openly practiced in this part of the world has promoted and fed upon a destructive schism between body and soul, Heaven and earth. It has encouraged people to believe that the world is of no importance, and that their obligation in it is to submit to certain churchly formulas in order to get to Heaven. And so the people who might have been expected to care most selflessly for the world have had their minds turned elsewhere…”

What do you think?

Zoe: Yeah, I think this kind of theology has been pretty destructive to the earth. There’s a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes that comes to mind – “some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”. I think that we can sometimes forget that the work of the gospel is here on earth! Speaking of Wendell Berry, he writes in his essay, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation” that the “advent of Christ was made possible by God’s love for the world — not God’s love for Heaven or for the world as it might be but for the world as it was and is.” I think that the simple fact of the incarnation of Jesus as a human, points rather sharply to the fact that matter matters to God. The stuff of this world is so important to God, that God became matter. 

Beth: Keesmaat’s piece really emphasizes the part of the Genesis story in which human beings are named for the dirt out of which they were formed. How the adam was formed from the adamah–so that you could almost translate adam as “dirtling.” One other way I’ve seen this done, which I think is completely gorgeous, is in a brilliant kids’ book by David R. Weiss called When God Was a Little GirlThe story depicts God making Creation through the imagery of a little girl doing a magnum opus of an art project. It’s messy, it’s playful, it’s totally fabulous. And in this story, Weiss describes the part where God makes people in this way:

“God took some earth and made us. She found the softest, nicest smelling earth–the earth that comes from plants when they turn back into dirt–and she called this earth humus. And she rolled the humus between her fingers just like you do when you play with clay. And then she smiled and giggled and made humus beings. Bunches of them! And each one was a little different. Some were the colour of deep, dark dirt; some looked like the pale sand on the beach.”

And they were all different shapes and sizes, etc., and they were all absolutely splendid. If you could devise your own poetic translation for adam, your own fresh way of expressing this in English, what would you pick? Why?

 Zoe: There are so many options! Sylvia goes with earth creature, but just as easily we could say earthling. I like earthling, but it maybe makes me think of aliens a bit too much, so I think one of my favourites would be borrowed from the bible translator Mary Phil Korsak who translates adam as groundling. And the groundling’s purpose in life was to serve the ground, for the groundling was formed from the soil of the ground. Really makes clear that we are made of earth stuff.

To hear about the beautiful imagery that Beth came up with in her translation, along with discussions on white pines and cemeteries in the forest, mudlarks and bird watching…you’ll have to listen to the podcast!

Featured photos: Zoe Matties and Tim Cruickshank

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