Revd Malcolm Doney

September Team Letter from Revd. Malcolm Doney

Posted on by Tania Birtwistle

Soil and Soul

Here we are in the harvest season, with festivals in churches across the team. I’ve spent most of my life in London, but ten years ago, my wife and I moved to Blythburgh. Harvest has taken on a new meaning since we moved East. In north London, we had a tiny, north-facing garden – overshadowed, damp, and a pilgrimage site for snails and slugs. The few things we managed to grow got munched.


It’s been a revelation since moving here. Summer and early autumn have proved to be ripe and luscious. In good years we’ve seen mountains of courgettes, heaps of apples, piles of peas. A hill of beans.


One of the joys of moving here has been the sense of being more in tune with the seasons, the weather, and being closer to the soil itself. Harvest reminds us that the soil is not just dirt, it’s alive! The Old Testament prophet Joel’s song to harvest says: “Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!”
The soil has soul. This isn’t as ridiculous as it may sound. “Remember you are dust,” it says in Genesis. Or, we are “Stardust”, according to the singer Joni Mitchell. Remember that song of hers, Woodstock? “We are stardust, we are golden, billion year old carbon. We’ve got to get back to the garden.”


She wasn’t making it up. Professor Iris Schriver, from Stanford University tells us: Everything we are and everything in the universe and on Earth originated from stardust, and it continually floats through us even today . . . All the material in our bodies originates with that residual stardust, and it finds its way into plants, and from there into the nutrients that we need for everything we do—think, move, grow.


You and I are built from the same material that formed the universe, and we share the very stuff of which our planet is made – so we are, literally, earthed.


This is one of the great legacies of the Hebrew tradition, that the earth  – and all that springs from it – is good. It isn’t some kind of prototype for something better. It isn’t some kind of poor relation to a distant, better, otherworldly reality. It’s good, in and of itself.


Not only are we and the earth made from the same stuff, our health and wellbeing depends on the relationship we have with each other. We live together in symbiosis.  Many peoples who’ve directly lived off the land– whether they hunt, forage or farm – have seen the  earth as more than simply a resource, they regard it as sacred. When you depend on your habitat for your survival, when you’re at the mercy of the elements, then you respect your surroundings. You give it due reverence.


This harvest season is an occasion for expressing reverence and giving God thanks for this remarkable creation. It’s expressed beautifully in this anonymous blessing:

The earth is fruitful, may we be generous.

The earth is fragile, may we be gentle.

The earth is fractured, may we be just.

Creating God, harvest in us joy and generosity as we together share in thanks and giving.


Malcolm Doney