Take up a handful of soil and you will hold a miracle—the possibility of life, the product of death. Generations of plants and animals lie in a handful. Hundreds, even thousands of microorganisms live there, processing the nutrients necessary for plants and the animals that depend upon them. Soil is a grace upon which we are totally dependent yet of which we are rarely aware. For Norman Wirzba and the agrarian writers he's assembled in The Essential Agrarian Reader, soil is the standard by which we should begin to judge our culture, economy, and service to creation.
That we are dependent upon the soil and the created order that surrounds and lives off of it is an insight confirmed by both Scripture and ecology. In The Paradise of God, Wirzba explores both of these sources of knowledge, using them to understand our vocation as creatures and the possibilities of a "culture of creation." Wirzba moves with care and insight through key biblical passages from the creation of man to the garden city of the New Jerusalem. In his reading of Scripture he finds witness, not to a self-standing humanity placed in an alien landscape, but to a humanity formed from and tied up with the creation of which it is a part. The created order is then a moral order. It bares the curse that humanity brings upon it (Gen. 3:17) and awaits, with groaning, the new creation formed by Christ (Rom. 8:19-23).
We can't understand our own moral life without beginning to understand the networks of living and non-living things upon which we are dependent. This dependence is both basic and vast; as Wirzba says, "we are directly and symbiotically tied to the billions of organisms, past and present, that recycle energy and give us food and air … as much as 10 percent ...1
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Books & Culture's Books of the Week: From Dust to Dust
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