Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
When I was a kid in Chicago, my Dad had a humus pile in the back yard – long before composting was popular. We would throw coffee grounds and grass clippings, egg shells and potato peelings on top of the dirt, and Dad would keep turning it over, producing the richest, blackest soil you can imagine. The word "humility" comes from that same origin, humus, and it means earth. Out of the woundedness and brokenness of our earthly lives come the fertile signs of spiritual growth… our call to humility.
Each time we begin the forty days of Lent, we are reminded that "we are dust, and unto dust we shall all return." But like the fallen angels or Adam and Eve, we often rebel. We don’t like to be reminded that we come from the earth. I am told that 75% of the American population does not accept the evidence of evolution. By that I mean something far more significant than that you and I share common ancestry with today’s monkeys! It has to do with our world view. We are reminded that the human species wasn’t inserted by God on to this planet in some dramatic and triumphant way. Rather, we came from the earth, or, as the Book of Genesis tells us, out of clay we were formed. Therefore, planet earth is not something we are to dominate, to use and abuse. We are the planet earth, we came from it…
Today’s Gospel says it powerfully: if we wish to be great, we must be the servant of all. That’s humility. And slowly, perhaps, we are evolving into understanding this virtue of humility.
Another metaphor from Sacred Scripture tells us that Adam and Eve were told to stay away from tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps God knew how tempting the sin of pride would be for our human race. When we begin to dictate to creation what is good and evil, black and white, we begin to form dualisms. And those black and white categories become boundary lines, and soon boundary lines become battle lines. It is clear from the world of politics and church and family systems today how destructive these battle lines can be. The curse of our age is fundamentalism; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, black and white. We grow more polarized and divided as the days unfold, and we spend more energy entrenching ourselves into our ideologies than building the Kingdom of God.
Maybe I need to get some rich, black soil under my fingernails, and spend some time in the garden. Humus.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.