Washing the hands, we call to mind the holiness of body.
(Marcia Falk – Jewish scholar and poet, from The Book of Blessings)
I discovered Marcia Falk’s collection of blessings last winter in the course of the Melton Jewish education classes I was taking. The saying of blessings is a part of daily practice in the Jewish tradition; these brief formulaic prayers are recited before performing a myriad of actions, such as getting up in the morning, washing hands, lighting Shabbat candles, etc. Falk was moved to compose her own blessings based on traditional texts to use less masculine imagery and language. The large volume was very interesting to me but felt foreign, not of my tradition, so I was surprised when her short verse above began popping to mind when I washed my hands. It comes and go in my consciousness but surfaced again recently. I am repeatedly struck by the absence of an article in the last part. “Holiness of body” is a gentle reminder that my body is deserving of reverence and inspires gratitude for health, strength, and mobility. In the short span of time it takes to wash hands, “holiness of body” also evokes the holiness of all living things and the ultimate body we inhabit – the earth.
The earth beneath my feet is the great womb out of which the life upon which my body depends comes in utter abundance. There is at work in the soil a mystery by which the death of one seed is reborn a thousandfold in newness of life . . . it is order, and more than order – there is a brooding tenderness out of which it all comes. In the contemplation of the earth, I know that I am surrounded by the love of God.
(Howard Thurman – mid-20th century African American theologian, this is from a 1953 meditation called “Surrounded by the Love of God”)
I was delighted to find this quote about the earth in a profile of Thurman in the August 2012 issue of Sojourners magazine. This growing season at the farm where I am a CSA member, the soil itself has been a source of wonder even though I’ve been working in the gardens there for seven years. This fascination began in the spring on a sunny, breezy day on which we “set out” tomato plants that had been started in a greenhouse. Scooping the rich soil, placing the plant and then mounding soil to fill the hole and stabilize the seedling felt so satisfying. Just last week, after a (too rare) rain shower, I took note of the soil again in its moistness, appreciating the nurture it provides the plants I eventually enjoy as food.
In To Dance with God, Gertrud Mueller Nelson emphasizes the symbolic, poetic meaning of the teaching that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. She sees it as “the ultimate celebration of the feminine – not just of Mary or of women, but of every aspect in nature and in our experience that carries the Yin element of our Yin-Yang totality,” and a symbolic return of mother earth to heaven, parallel and balancing to the incarnation of Jesus having brought the divine to earth.
Holy Mary, Virgin Mother, whose assumption we celebrate today, your crowning in heaven crowns all nature with a blessedness that makes heaven and earth one. Your own human nature which was the font itself of God’s own Son, Jesus, fruit of your womb, is proof that what surrounds us is holy and a worthy carrier of the redemptive. Let us never misuse this sacred earth, her fruits, her soil, her adornment, life or riches. Let us always return to her soil worthy nourishment to replenish and not poison her. Let us never misuse those who tend the earth. Their work is holy and noble. May we take from earth’s offerings without greed or waste. Let us share with earth’s people, her gifts in full justice and love. Amen.
(To Dance with God, p. 214)