This is one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture: “The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). So many people misunderstand what appears to be gender exclusive language here and overlook the significance of what is Revealed about who we are and about who God is.
The gender-exclusive language is tied in some part with what will become known as the proper noun, “Adam.” Hence there is a lot of talk about ‘man’ this and ‘man’ that. Yet, if we look a little closer at the Hebrew, the original language of the text, we something a little different. The word that is used to describe the “man” (later, Adam) that is made from the clay of the ground is the Hebrew ha’adamah — which literally means: ‘From the Earth.’ The first human being is known as ‘from the Earth.’
This expression of Truth has never been lost on me and, in fact, remains one of the most compelling dimensions of the Hebrew Creation account contained in the second chapter of Genesis. So often men and women like to think of themselves as ‘better than’ or ‘above’ the rest of creation. This doesn’t happen in clearly overt ways, but instead is reflected in the behavior or disposition that people show toward the rest of creation. It’s reflected in how we use energy, how we treat the environment, how we travel, how we make our purchases, how we eat and so on.
What, I believe, stands at the center of these attitudes is something of an ‘Original Forgetfulness’ (not unlike ‘Original Sin’), which afflicts so much of the modern population. We are created like everything else in this universe. As the book of Genesis attests, not so much in its historical or scientific prowess but in its religious wisdom and Truth, we are made of the same stuff as everything else — we, men and women, are all Adam, we are all ha’adamah (from the Earth).
The theologian Elizabeth Johnson poetically and truthfully states that we humans, like everything in creation, are made of “Space Dust.” Our bodies, organs, cells are all made of the same elements, which are made of the same quanta as everything else. I am carbon, nitrogen and a whole host of other elements like the clay of the Earth is. As a result, I must come to better appreciate my place in the world as a part of the family of Creation, not lording over anything as if I was different or distinct.
Human beings have greater responsibility because we have been given different gifts, among which we can count free will. But we are inherently part of creation like each tree and each deer. We should not lose sight of this, but instead reflect on how we both share in the kinship of creation and bear the Spirit of God within us as the breath of our lives. God breathes God’s Self into the ha’adamah, animating who it is that we are. And that Spirit continues to breathe new life in us and in all of creation.
May we come to see this truth more readily this Lent and live a life that more authentically reflects who God is as creator and life-giver, while living more truly who we are as part of the family of creation called to care for the world.Note: This post was pre-written and scheduled to be published while I am away on a service trip to the Dominican Republic with students from Siena College. Regular daily posts will resume upon my return. While away I am unable to respond to comments posted here.