Ephesians 5:25-27: Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
I don’t know if you played in the dirt when you were a kid, but everybody in our neighborhood did, so much so that our moms made us take our clothes off on the back porch before we came in. “Don’t go tracking that mud onto my nice clean kitchen floor!” they fussed. “I just mopped it! Honestly, I don’t understand why you have to go rolling around in the mud every time you go out! You look like you live in a pig pen!” And although we knew we would face our mothers’ ire every time we played in the dirt or threw dirt clods at each other or waded a muddy creek, we continued to do so because, one, it was a lot of fun and, two, we weren’t too bright. I think maybe we were expecting that our mothers would have a change of heart and welcome us with cakes and cookies wearing their best dresses, cooing at the same time, “Just look at you! Aren’t you something, covered with mud from head to toe? Do come in and sit on my new sofa. I like boys who know how to have a good time.”
Now, I have to confess this never happened, and while I stopped playing in the mud for fun after a while, I found there were still plenty of things I could do outside when I grew older to get dirty in a more socially acceptable manner than wallowing in a quagmire. I could dig holes for trees and then water them in after I had planted them, creating plenty of—that’s right—mud that I could then track inside. Becky is not amused by this, and while sometimes I remembered take off my shoes and be careful not to anoint every indoor surface with mud, more often than not, I forgot and ended up mopping the floor and shedding my outer garments in the laundry room. It seems I’ve never learned and I’ve never changed in this matter.
I was thinking about dirt a couple of weeks ago as I was turning left onto Stonewall Road, leaving the church parking lot. I saw a boy and three girls, all about eight years old, sitting in a circle around a tree, leaning over peering into the roots which had low places in the dirt between them. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing, but I like to imagine that they were digging in the dirt and that later on, one of them would bring a hose around and they would have a mud fight and then go home and track the mud all over their mothers’ kitchens with the same results that I encountered so long ago.
This image of those children gathered around that tree resonated with me, and I thought of a passage in a letter about nature written by William Blake, the English Romantic poet:
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a man is, so he sees.
I’m not sure exactly what that means. Blake can be obtuse—in fact, his wife said to a friend, “I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company. He is always in Paradise.” By that she meant he lived in an abstract realm of imagination. Mrs. Blake sometimes joined him in this world: a visitor surprised them when they were pretending to be Adam and Eve in their garden…before the fall. You know. Blake also wrote that “Art is the tree of life,” to which he added “Science is the tree of death.” I like microvaves and indoor plumbing too much to agree that all science is deadly, but that passage naturally made me think of the Tree of Life, a centuries-old concept that is found in numerous cultures and religions, including pre-Islamic Persian mythology, Ancient Egypt, Assyria, the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Chinese mythology, the Book of Mormon, a ten thousand year old tree-worshipping culture in Indonesia, India, the Middle East, Russia, Finland, Germanic and Norse mythologies, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, the Mayans and Aztecs, pre-historic North American tribes, and the Serer religion in Senegal.
Now, of course in that long list, I left out the Tree of Life found in the Bible, or should I say the Trees of Life. The first one was found in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Adam and Eve ate from and lost Paradise. We still are much as they were, covering ourselves not with literal mud but with the filth of our sin. But then there is the second tree of life, the cross on which our Savior, the source of Living Water, died. And because of that sacrifice, as Jesus declared, “You who believe in me, out of your hearts will flow rivers of living water.” Thanks be to God for the gift of the Savior, of Living Water, and the Tree of Life on which Jesus died and washed us clean. Amen.