Writing by Faith

Down in the Dirt


It is almost spring, and spring gets me thinking about summer, and summer makes me think about camping. As I sit and write this, the ground outside my window is covered in a blanket of fresh snow, but I cannot deny that spring is just around the corner, with summer close behind, which means it will soon be time for camping.

Let me clarify what I mean by camping. I do not mean packing up the RV or spending a weekend at a glamping resort. I mean real camping, in a sleeping bag in a tent in the dirt, preferably beside a mountain stream winding its way amid towering Douglas fir. I mean cooking over the green Coleman stove, relaxing around the evening bonfire, and falling asleep to the sounds of nature. I mean waking up to fresh mountain air, even if sore from a cold night sleeping on the ground.

I come by it honestly. Ours has been a camping family for generations. My great-grandparents set up camp in the shadow of Mount Rainier; my grandparents took my mother and her brothers on early outings to Troublesome Creek, and my parents hauled us off to the Mountain Loop Highway and the Big Four Ice Caves. There are generations of trips captured in black-and-white film, replete with canvas tents, bamboo fly rods, and the ubiquitous kerosene stove. This heritage lives on in me.

Today, we spend a lot of our time in a sanitized and digitized world. We leave our air-conditioned homes and drive in our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned offices or movie theaters. Our food comes prepackaged in boxes and cans. Our entertainment streams from the cloud and our human connections are often distanced through social media and digital servers.

In this sterile and virtual world, it is important to be intentional about getting outside and touching what is real. Studies have shown that working in the soil of a garden releases serotonin in our brains, and harvesting fresh produce causes a dopamine release, both of which lead to happiness and well-being. Studies in Japan have proven that the practice of forest bathing — walking mindfully amidst trees — contributes to lowered stress in our bodies and better mental health. Getting outside is good for us.

At the end of March, Christians will gather to greet the Easter sunrise, retelling the story of an empty tomb in an ancient garden. As I ponder the life of Jesus, I am always struck by the physical nature of the biblical accounts. They tell of people getting dust in their sandals while walking along the seashore. People go about their work of mending nets, collecting taxes and working in the fields. Jesus puts his hands in mud, and he cooks breakfast over a morning bonfire. The crux of the story is memorialized in a loaf of bread and cup of wine.

This, to me, is a reminder that the Christian story, as with all great stories, is an embodied story, an incarnate story. It tells us that our Creator cares about creation, that God cares about dust. God honors a boy’s lunch, a widow’s metal coin and the fruit of the vine. The real stuff of life matters because it is where life is found.

Further, this is a reminder to me to embrace the real wherever I can. There is goodness in the world, from the tartness of a rich red wine to the sweet aroma arising from baking sourdough. Life is better for the warm skin of a freshly picked tomato, the embrace of a lover’s arms, and the vibrating resonance of plucked guitar strings. We are held by sunshine and rain. Our feet find their home in the dirt.

Our Easter morning will be marked by the fragrance of bonfire smoke mingled with the scent of cinnamon rolls and hot coffee, serenaded by the alleluias of seagulls overhead, all clasped in the cold chill of an early spring morning. Soon it will give way to summer and gardening and camping and dirt. The glory is that it all matters. Let us embrace it.

On behalf of the Key Peninsula Ministers Association, I wish you a blessed Easter, hoping that you find yourself in touch with divine love, along with the beautiful people and this inspiring place we all call home.

Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.