compost · dark · depression · garden · loneliness · winter

The Dirty Business of Growth

I was recently commissioned to do calligraphy for the cover of a book in which the name “Adam” is a key focus. Meaning “Red Clay Man” or “Red Soil Man,” the name “Adam” is a rich word picture for each of us as humans. It can serve an impetus for introspection as fellow members of the human race, and as I believe along with some of you, descendants of Adam.

“Biologist Hayman Hartman claims that the reason there is life on earth, and not, say, on the moon or mars, is the existence of clay. His claims are complicated, having to do with iron and organic compounds and crystal structures, but in essence, he claims it’s clay that holds the blueprint for life. Isn’t that interesting?” (Leah Kostamo) I haven’t researched any of this, but I agree it is interesting food for contemplation.

I wish I had time to present here the myriad connections man has with soil, humus, clay. But for me, a Christian, it is enough to consider three key parts of my human history:

  1. The first man was created from the red clay soil, shortly after the soil was created
  2. Man was placed in the garden as his natural habitat
  3. Man was called to work the soil for his sustenance

Add to these the beautiful way in which life-giving resources arise from the soil to nourish man and return to it (along with man) to enrich the soil again, there seems to me no end to the creative nuances here that might inspire us as “soil-people.”

As a gardener, I know this recent wintry chill  not as the season of the death of my garden, but as the season of the growth and metamorphoses taking place hidden from view, within the humus, the living soil. After all as I learned long ago, a gardener’s first job is growing good soil. The spent vegetable, herb, fruit and leaf matter fall to the ground, composting with the help of insects, worms and bacteria to return to the soil needed nutrients for new growth next spring.

We gaze at our empty or lessened gardens, our drying lawns, and each winter somehow forget for a time the glorious explosion of life that returns to view every spring. Truth is, it just moved underground, into the burgeoning soil. But we can’t see it, so disappointment sets in, then something like the sadness of loss. Many of us experience depression as the sunlight hours decrease for winter.  Up here, above the soil, we may even feel that the barrenness of the land reflects a barrenness inside ourselves.

But the barrenness is deception; illusion. Something fantastic is happening according to design. During Jesus’ three days in the tomb, the most powerful life-giving activity in the universe was taking place though those outside the tomb thought it confirmation that he was really and truly dead. And so it is with the composting humus beneath our feet. Life; growth; power- it’s under there, and will burst forth again at just the right time when it has reached readiness.

Likewise, we “soil people” must experience seasons of dying back and re-growth beneath the surface in preparation for more colorful, exuberant, outward growth. Your season of difficulty may be marked by physical or emotional pain, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, or something you can’t quite define. It may feel to you like you’re lacking forward momentum, moving backward,  or, as in a garden, a death of parts of your life and self. But allow me to remind you of all the life-giving work going on within you to “prepare your soil” for the next season. In the tomb, the three-day waiting period was dark, quiet, still. And for us, difficulty may seem a time of quiet, dark- a frustratingly stand-still.  But it is the activity that we can’t see beneath the surface that is life-changing, life-generating. It takes time and care to grow rich, worthy soil, as every gardener knows.

DIG DEEPER: If you love the intersection of faith ad agrarian interests, you’ll love Norman Wirzba, who is slated to speak at Vanderbilt November 12, 2014: Food and Justice at Vanderbilt


  1. Are you in a difficult time, feeling impatient for something to happen? What can you imagine as life-giving growth beneath the surface?
  2. How does the “Red Clay Man” word picture speak to you?
  3. Have you ever been through a time of dark, quiet, stillness only to later realize great things were happening beyond your view?

Thank you for reading my post. Be sure to leave a comment!


2 thoughts on “The Dirty Business of Growth

  1. Laurie!! this is just what I needed today! thank you—never thought about the tomb quite like that and I love it. Thanks for meeting with Tony, too. He said it meant a lot to him :). xoxo, Jewles


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