Though the path to its origin may be somewhat circuitous, the connective tissue remains undeniable. Embedded in this world and in relationship to both plants and animals, we stand uniquely, and in most cases on two feet, as human beings.
We are earthbound in ways too numerous to mention. Even intellectually advanced, capable of defying the gravitational pull while strapped into outer space-bound projectiles, our essential domain is that of planet earth.
Having had my own modest career in the game of basketball, I was once listed in the program as “a great position-rebounder.” A more apt translation might be, “the guy has no hops!” They could have named that movie “White Men Can’t Jump” after me.
These days, about to register for Medicare, I feel more gravity bound and vertically challenged as ever.
It could be stated, however, this is as it should be. If we were to get back to our roots, so to speak, the argument could be made we’ve been tracking mud in on our boots for the duration.
Conceding the etymologists are correct, even the uninitiated might discern the probable relationship between “humanity” and “humus.” “Of the earth” may not be limited to the fact we’re basically stuck here. While we can give credit — to the French, Middle English and Latin — here credit it due, I might prefer dialing it back even further to the ancient language of Hebrew.
While in seminary four decades ago, I managed to skirt having to master this complex, even backwards language, taking two semesters of New Testament Greek instead. Still, I was able to “scratch the surface” as on my own initiative I learned to identify and pronounce the 22-letters of the Hebrew alphabet. How about that?
“In the beginning,” better known at the Hebrew Bible’s first book called Genesis, many believe, I included, we truly find our common ground, and quite literally. Certainly, not all subscribe to this disclosure of our “originality,” but nevertheless, we read of the divinely initiated arrival of the first earthling, one identified as Adam.
In fact, outside of a few genealogies, Adam, as a name, is only mentioned once, at least in my translation. God, so it appears, is having some fun, or should I say “pun” with us. Do some digging, and one will unearth the Hebrew word “adam,” or “adamah,” which are best translated as “ground,” “soil,” or “earth.”
No matter how literally or even dismissively one takes these words, there’s no getting around God’s seemingly innate sense of humor. We all, in diverse ways, have been birthed so as to “bloom where we are planted.” Call it what you will, but while our commonality on a physiological level is that of flesh, blood, organs and such, we also seem to be bound by and to the ground.
Even if any remain unconvinced by this, I invite you to take a look around Wednesday of next week. Either some people haven’t bathed in a while, or just came home from working a dirty job, or inadvertently smudged themselves with some errant grease or black shoe polish, but a glance of a forehead or two might reveal a temporary blemish.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, in my humble duties as a parish pastor this past year, I’ve officiated more funerals that any previous 12-month period. What’s more, even with a pandemic, I’ve attended more funeral and graveside services, and sent more cards of condolence than during any other equal time span. On a certain level, I do not need to be reminded of this inevitability. Perhaps, neither do you.
In spite of this reality, a particular Wednesday remains on my calendar, and maybe yours, too. Regardless of when such a day became official, many will mark Ash Wednesday with a defining mark upon their forehead. Solemn as it may be, it serves a potent reminder of a particular reality which binds us as a human family.
As I pen this, it is precisely one year ago today a beloved brother-in-law breathed his last breath on this earth, and some days later was cremated. All felt it was too soon, but after years of battling the advancing effects of cancer’s relentless attack, the inescapable arrived.
We may or may not partake in the imposition of ashes in a place of worship this coming Wednesday, but there is no avoiding this imposing certainty of origin. Return to the third chapter of that ancient book to note the inevitable pronouncement of “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And so, we are not surprised.
There is more to be said, without a doubt, but allow this to stick for a time. Often inscribed in the sign of a cross, don’t let the rub, rub you the wrong way. On the contrary, some of its intent is to bring us together, to celebrate our common humanity, broken as it may be, and collective capacity to bear good fruit, given our unifying rootedness.
These days, little effort is needed to find causes that divide or disconnect us. It takes work and some digging to be reminded how much we share in common. Maybe what we need to do is simply go below the surface with each other and find out.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at email@example.com