I’m currently on study leave in the high desert of Eastern Oregon, surrounded by the smell of juniper, dust, and wildfire smoke. The peaks and foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range are my scenery. It’s an amazing place to be contemplating the book of Leviticus and the order of creation built around land, air, and water. Living in the midst of a global viral pandemic is also an opportune time to think about categories of clean and unclean. At the center of it all is our belief system built around “dirt” within the present material world and how it relates to the supernatural.
Mary Douglas, an anthropologist, talks about our discomfort with ambiguity relative to dirt and a need to categorize our surroundings. She believes eliminating dirt is not a negative undertaking, but instead a positive effort to organize our environment; a creative movement relating form to function. Purification is about imposing a system on an inherently untidy experience. She also says that it’s only by exaggerating the difference between within and without that a semblance of order is created.
In some ways our current cultural divide is an attempt to make the other conform to a particular ordered system as we live with the dirt of a virus. The theology of Leviticus also incorporates the interrelationship between disparate material experiences and centers them around holiness. Holiness isn’t a bad centering point for the wider Church. Perhaps we could find common theological ground around categorizing this dirt that we’re dealing with and doing the holy work of bringing order to the chaos as stewards of Creation.
May we find ways to participate creatively and positively in our world as interrelated members of Creation, and may we experience an imminent end to this pandemic.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Bales
Communications Director &
Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church