My children and I love to listen to audiobooks. With my son’s swim practice schedule this year, we spend an inordinate amount of time in Atlanta traffic. NPR and the public library’s selection of audiobooks have helped us keep our sanity (mostly!). Currently we are in the middle of a children’s book series by Eoin Colfer. The Artemis Fowl series begins as pre-teen Artemis, criminal mastermind and genius extraordinaire, sets up the kidnapping of an elf, one of the many fairy people who have moved underground to escape the “Mud Men,” as they call humans. The elf is a member of the elite reconnaissance team from the Lower Elements Police, the LEP for short. She is a LEP Recon officer (get it? Leprechaun? Clever, huh?).
It dawned on me today that Colfer was actually using what could be considered a biblical reference, or at least a play on words with biblical origins. In calling the humans “Mud Men,” Colfer is playing around with the word “human.” You may have heard really great soil called “humus.” In my Old Testament class, Dr. John Hayes shared with us in his eloquent southern way that in Genesis chapter 2, God created adam from adama, which literally translates from the Hebrew as “dirt boy” from “dirt.” Or human from humus.
I have to admit that I’m not much for using the Bible as a science text book. To me, it is far too important a writing to relegate it to such. The Bible is not so much about giving us facts as it is about giving us truths. And the first two chapters of Genesis are chock full of truths. The first chapter draws to a close with the creation of humans, Male and Female, created in God’s image. And God proclaims that all of creation is good. And humans, well, God goes so far as to pronounce them “very good!” An important truth to understand going forward, indeed. God’s first words regarding humans are words of adoration and acceptance. We are all created in God’s image. All of us. No exception. And God has called each and every one of us very good.
The first chapter of Genesis is known as the “wet creation” story. (Go read it again if you want to know why!) The second chapter of Genesis retells the story in a bit of a different order. It is the “dry creation” story. And it has an important truth to impart, as well. This is the story where we hear that we are humans from humus, adam from adama, dirt people from dirt. There is another word that derives from the same root as human and humus. Humility. Even as we learn in Genesis 1 that we are very good, special, created in God’s image, we turn to Genesis 2 to remember the importance of being grounded, connected to the earth, inextricably linked to the soil. Joined to one another and all other creatures in our dependence on the basic elements of the earth for our survival. We must remember our place in this interconnected web. We must retain our humility.
Each of us needs to hear these two truths at different points in our lives. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are amazing, wonderful creatures, Very Good, made in God’s image. We need to learn to love ourselves, accept ourselves. It’s a sin not to. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are no better than others, connected with others, living in symbiotic relationship with others and we have a duty of care that goes along with that. We need to be humble. It’s a sin not to.
Jesus’s incarnation melds together the human and the divine. In his life, the two stories of Genesis, these two truths, come together in perfect harmony. As we walk the Lenten journey together, seeking to become that which God has created us to be, let us always remember that we are mud men and mud women, mud boys and mud girls. Each and every one created in God’s image. And as we confess what we have done and left undone, remember that in as much as lack of humility, pridefulness, is a sin, so too is forgetting that you are a child of God, made in God’s image, and pronounced “very good.”
Without giving up too much of the story of Artemis Fowl, let me just say that Artemis eventually learns both of these truths. He learns a bit of humility. He also learns that his true worth does not lie in money or power or scheming. He learns both of these things in the midst of some pretty audacious, exciting, and unconventional situations with a varied cast of motley characters.
These truths, being so true, never seem to get old. We keep finding ways to re-tell the story. The story of the mud people, Christened by God with a divine spark, earthy beings bearing the light of life into the world.