Dirt Therapy

I like to dig in the dirt.

I love the feel of a metal spade in my hand pushing deep into the soil, especially after a steady rain has tinted the earth the color of freshly brewed tea. In 2016, following many years of devastating drought, California welcomed soaking rains. The pleasant smell of sprouting vegetation provided a long-awaited reward for those who enjoy liberating hardened ground from an inevitable onslaught of weeds.

I was in my mid-twenties when clinical depression began tinting my world dark gray, and the term “dirt therapy” frequented my thinking.  For me, it described an action that could relieve feelings of discontentment and chronic exasperation.

In my late 50s, it occurred to me that dirt therapy is something Jesus was familiar with. His parables often had to do with how to benefit — or not — from interaction with the land. For example, in the parable of the sower, Jesus described four, very different types of soil and compared them, to demonstrate various stages of spiritual life….

 Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 

  • When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 
  • The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
  • The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 
  • But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23, New International Version)

Jesus’ best friend, John, described an event where the Teacher used “dirt therapy” to heal a man born blind. The Son of God spit in the dirt, made mud using his saliva, and smeared it on the man’s eyes. Then he said to the blind man, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” When the man obeyed Jesus’ instructions — went and washed — he came home seeing. (John 9:1-6)

The word “dirt” can also refer to sinful behavior. John also documented details about an occasion when some teachers of the Law of Moses and some political adherents, called Pharisees, forced  a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery to stand before Jesus.  (John 8:1-11) The men challenged Jesus to judge the woman and condemn her to death by stoning. The Son of Man stooped down and wrote in the dirt with his finger before answering: Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Here’s what happened next …

Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Three different behaviors were shown, which concerned a specific sin issue. Rather than preach or panic, Jesus leaned over and drew something — we don’t know what — in the dirt with his finger. Hmm … I’ll let you draw your own conclusion on how effective that form of dirt therapy was.

I like that John wrote about how “those who heard” responded to Jesus’ inverted challenge: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” His words caused the older men to think about who they were and what they were doing. They were the first to change their behavior. Then the younger men followed their example.

Whenever I engage in the quiet of dirt therapy, I think … a lot. And I even occasionally hear the voice of my Savior, which causes me to RETHINK, as well.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: Is there any kind of “dirt” in your life? Take it to Jesus in prayer, and request some divine “dirt therapy.”