Reading a chapter in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, was a good reminder of what I know. The chapter was entitled, “The Practice of Carrying Water.” The context of her chapter is a power outage. Taylor moves from the electricity outage to some rumination on the nature of work. She has a wonderful section on digging potatoes, which reminded me of my own childhood days on the farm when I also had to dig potatoes.
And then Taylor moved into talking about the early Genesis chapter that describes the creation of humans. This is a text I know well. I have read it many times and have used it as a basis for a number of different presentations. Even when you know something well, there is always a good chance you will think of new things when you re-visit the text.
Taylor talks about trying to learn Hebrew. I also had little success with that language. I only learned enough to be able to dance around the edge of any meaningful engagement with the text of the Hebrew Bible. She confessed that she grew up on the King James version of the Bible. In many ways that would have been true for me. Then I read a sentence in Taylor’s chapter that made me smile and I knew exactly where she was going. Learning Hebrew usually entails predictable lessons. She says, “One of the first nouns I learned was ‘earthling.’” She continued, “I was greatly affected by the knowledge that God did not make ‘man’ in the second chapter of Genesis.”
Taylor was headed down the predictable road. “God made adam---an earthling---from adamah---the earth.” Here Taylor is making the familiar word play available if you know Hebrew. Adam, the name of that first human creation of God, is related to the Hebrew word for earth or dirt. I know the first time I hit this piece of knowledge, I was a little unnerved. Adam was not really the first person’s name, so much as it was a descriptive term.
But then I came to my intellectual senses and relaxed. I actually knew a guy who lived on a farm not too far from mine. His name was Dusty! No one that I knew thought it was funny. He was just Dusty. It was a name. Maybe when he was little, kids would tease him and call him “Dirty.” But as an adult, he just had a name that was descriptive. So it was for Adam.
This could be the end of the story, but Taylor has such a good sense of humor, there was more to come. God made Adam from the earth. Now listen to how Taylor develops that. “God made a mud-baby, a dirt-person, a dust-creature.” If I ever had heard it this way when I was a kid, I am sure I would have connected it to the Dusty I knew. That would have been cool, but I guess timing is everything. Adam and Dusty were never connected in my mind.
I revel in Taylor’s three descriptions of Adam: a mud-baby, a dirt-person and a dust-creature. When you think about the first creature as a mud-baby, that does something to the imagination! If it were created in the South with the red clay dirt I associate with my time in the South, Adam would have been a reddish human creature. Maybe he would have looked more like a Native American than he would look like me. And of course, we all know there are other dirt colors.
Thinking about it this way makes me appreciate the diversity of the human race. Thank goodness reading the Genesis creation account with this lens means we cannot link one particular color of human with the “original Adam.” It means I cannot assume Adam was not a white, European guy looking much like me. He might have, but there are a few other good options, too. And that certainly means that all the human diversity can count as being children of Adam and, therefore, children of God. God’s children are from all the colors of the rainbow.
I like the “truth” of the Genesis creation account. It is not scientific “truth,” but it is true in a theological manner. I am ok thinking that I am a mud-baby! I am ok thinking you are a mud-baby, too. We are all mud-babies, but that does not mean we all look alike. I like to think God likes rainbows and colors. I think it is rather creative to scoop a divine handful of dirt to prepare for a human.
Taylor has one more clever move for creation. With that divine handful of dirt, “God breathed into its nostrils, giving it divine CPR, and behold!” God created a living creature. This divine inbreathing is the very Spirit of God that moves us all into life. And it inspires us to move through life with that same Spirit that adds value, meaning, and purpose to the mud-baby.
With God’s Spirit, we are not just mud-babies. Each one of us becomes a special somebody!