Straight Outta Red Clay

Today’s readings:

The Spirit Over the Waters: 2008 DHR
painter’s tape and ink on cardboard

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

There is a whole anthropology in this verse: a whole way of understanding who we are, of what we are.

The first thing to note is that in Hebrew (and in the NABRE, at least) the thing being made here is not named “Adam” but rather a class of being called “Ha-adam” which means the-something. The understanding of the word is one of “earth-creature” because God made this creature out of dirt. It’s a common-enough trope in many mythologies around the world, including our current one of scientism: some action takes a lump of inanimate matter and makes it animate. That is exactly how scripture says it happened. Even Carl Sagan taught us that we are made of stardust. Genesis is more prosaic and says dust of the ground. And here we have “adam” words twice in Hebrew: Ha-adam apar min ha-adamah. The-adam of the dust of the-adamah” That last adamah means “dirt” or “ground”. It also means “ruddy” or red… and so: God made the-adam out of good, holy, and red Georgia clay.

And then God breathed into the earth creature the breath of life, the Nishamah-Chai’im: our soul.  The Nishamah-Chai’iam is important. Because God did not give this to any other creature. It is ours.

And then, it says, the Earth Creature, ha-adam, having received the Neshamah became A Living Being, Nephesh-Hayah, a Thing that Is.  We were not that when we started this story, 13 hebrew words before. We started as dirt. And God breathed into us. Then we became. We are Ha-adam, the earth creature-with-soul. We are dirt-that-lives, raised by the Lord God our Father from the Earth our Mother. (Ha-adamah is a feminine noun.)

We have here the creation of us. And it is the salvation of us as well: for we often forget that we are not earth creatures with souls.  We are not a “soul trapped in dirt”. Nor are we merely dirt with something added. The adam part of us, the dirt, is entirely at one with the breath of life, the nephesh of us. It is breath+dirt that makes us Nephesh Hayah.  God (Yah) who is being himself made all the things of the earth out of dirt (as we’ll see tomorrow) but in us he put something of himself, something of Being.

Almost all heresies forget this.

In all distortions of the truth, humans are either “spiritual beings with bodies” (Gnosticism) or else just “bodies” (Materialism). This is true of all heresies in one degree or another: if you say something wrong about God you will also say something wrong about man. The reverse is equally true. Only Christianity demands fully that salvation – being made whole – is a restoration of this fully living being, this breath+dirt that is God and Earth.

This story is fulfilled – made full – in God becoming Earth himself in the Incarnation. God became the New Adam, the new Earthling, in order to fully restore all of us to himself. The very God of Communion who gave us Beingness, comes to us who gave up our Beingness for selfishness, to restore us to full Communion.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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