The Goodness of the Earth

To experience the goodness in life is to be in touch with the gift of God. We all have memories of the goodness of creation. We have smelled the freshness of the earth after rain. We have known the delight of biting into a crisp autumn apple. We have gazed upon field after field of golden corn. We have touched the cool smoothness of a rock, sea-washed for millennia. The goodness is there. We are called into an awareness of it, to be alert, as Alexander Scott taught, to ‘the fathomless mystery involved in the mere existence of a pebble.’

George MacDonald, long anticipating some of the ecological awareness of the twentieth century, described the grandmother figure in his novel, The Golden Key, as at one with the mystery of creation. Typically, MacDonald uses a wise and beautiful old woman to represent the divine. Clad in a green dress, she lives in a great wood and is always barefooted. Those who visit her similarly are invited to take off their shoes. To touch the ground with their bare feet is to become more alive  to the vibrancy of the goodness that is in the earth. The allusion is clearly to the Book of Exodus and the story of Moses encountering God in the flames of a blazing bush. ‘Remove the sandals from your feet,’ says God, ‘for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ In the Celtic tradition all ground is holy, for within it is the goodness of God.

We all know what a difference it can make to be barefooted. To feel the soft moisture of grass beneath our feet opens new awarenesses in us. It can allow us to see life with a different perspective. The same, of course, can be said about walking on rough terrain. To expose our feet to stony ground also leads to new awarenesses! A heightened sense of the earth on which we walk is not just about pleasurable experiences. It is about knowing and reverencing the creation of which we are a part. Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose years in the Celtic culture of northern Wales inspired much of his poetry, writes of the way in which we have cut ourselves off from feeling the grandeur of God in creation. By ‘being shod’, he says, our feet can no longer feel. We have lost touch with ‘the dearest freshness deep down things’.

The answer to our extreme insensitivities to creation in the Western world today does not lie in a resumed practice of going barefooted. We need to find new ways of reopening the doors of our senses to creation, whether we live in crowded cities or open countryside. The experience of feeling the earth with our feet is a symbol of the rediscovery that needs to happen if we are to come back into a true sense of relationship with creation. This can happen through an attentiveness to the mystery of what grows in our city gardens and household plant pots, as it will happen also in the vast stretches of open fields of the country and in our ancient woods. It is the experience of the goodness of the earth that will help sustain our commitment to care for the earth.

Newell, John Philip. The Book of Creation. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.
Photo by Jan Romero on Unsplash