Faith Matters: For Lent: Out of the earth, the breath of life

  • Rev. Cara Hochhalter in the Charlemont Federated Church. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Charlemont Federated Church
Friday, February 16, 2018

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)


A clergy friend wrote that he had been making a dorodango. This Japanese word means “mud dumpling” but is not something that you might want in your soup any time soon.

It is a Japanese art form of making a miniature Earth out of earth. He mixes two or three cups of dirt with water and works it with his hands to form a perfect ball. The dirt has clay and organic content to hold it together, as well as grains of dirt that vary in sizes so that tiny particles fill in the gaps, giving the ball a perfectly smooth surface. The artist slaps the mud, rolling it around, adding dirt or water as needed, and letting it rest in a cloth for two to 12 hours. He does this twice a day for 4 or 5 days until he has a spherical mud ball that is shiny and firm — and, well, beautiful!

This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fell on the same day. Our church, like many Christian churches, had a service to remember our shared humanness and our mortality, saying that “from dust we came and to dust we shall return” — but also to remember our beloved-ness. Even as we are made human from elements of this earth, just like a dorodango, there is beauty in being human and humility in recognizing that we are part of a much larger whole. We remember that we are created, as is all of life, by God, Creative Spirit, Divine Mystery.

Ash Wednesday ushers in the six weeks of Lent that leads us up to Easter Sunday, this year on April 1. You hear about people “giving up something” for Lent. This can be a beautiful practice. As I sacrifice something (it might be a food that I love but is not good for me or an activity that wastes time and distracts my attention), I am reminded of those who do not have a choice in what they eat or how they spend their time. “Giving up” helps me to be in solidarity with those who live without and helps me be a little more humble. I also remember how Jesus sacrificed his life. He would not compromise who he was; he would not stop proclaiming the love of God for all people, even those on the margins. His life was taken in a culture that felt threatened by this kind of love that held such power.

The six weeks of Lent is a time to turn inwards, reaching towards a connection with God’s sacredness within our own hearts, to remember this way of loving across boundaries and responding outwardly with those around us in our communities and world. It is a time to remember humility and beloved-ness.

When I heard about the Japanese art of dorodango, I was reminded of the poem by James Weldon Johnson about creation. Here is an excerpt:

Up from the bed of the river

God scooped the clay;

And by the bank of the river

He kneeled him down;

And there the great God

Who lit the sun and fixed it in
    the sky, 

Who flung the stars to the
   most far corner of the

Who rounded the earth in the
   middle of his hand;

This great God,

Like a mammy bending over
   her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till he shaped it in is his own

Then into it he blew the breath    of life,

And man became a living

“From dust we came and to dust we shall return,” and yet, into it all, God blows the breath of life — and all are beloved!

About Charlemont Federated Church

Historically, Charlemont Federated Church was a union of Congregationalists, American Baptists, and Methodists. It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and embraces a claim to be a “people of God’s extravagant welcome.” People of all denominations and faith backgrounds are welcomed into full participation with this congregation. Our Sunday services are at 9:30 a.m. with other activities throughout the week. 175 Main St. 413-339-4294. Email: cfc@charlemontfederatedchurch.org. Online at: www.charlemontfederatedchurch.org