July 2020 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

The following reading appears in Hear the Earth Call, a collection of prayers and sermon excerpts that Duffy Schade, Sharon Gresk and I produced a number of years ago. It’s called “Digging in the Dirt,” and it strikes me as important advice for engaging with summer:

My younger son, Max, who is eighteen months old, likes digging in dirt. Over the past few months, whenever we go outside, Max grabs a plastic shovel from his shelf in the garage and enthusiastically bobs and waddles over to the three small pine trees lining our driveway. He squats at the base of the middle tree and digs in the dirt. He puts his shovel in the ground and loosens a scoop of brown, sandy earth. He lifts it slowly; he studies the scoop intently—his gaze pierces; and then very slowly he slides the dirt off the shovel back onto the ground—again and again and again. Peter Mayer has given me words for what Max is doing. He is memorizing “the pages of gravity.”

I don’t know what question Max’s young mind is really asking as he conducts this almost daily ritual, but he’s clearly asking one. His stare is so fixed, as if he’s looking for something—not something in the dirt—not a worm or a mole or an acorn or some other buried treasure. It’s as if he’s looking for the nature of dirt itself. I’ve seen him touch it, smell it, taste it, share it with others—but it’s that intense gaze which says, “I need to know what this stuff is. It’s hard and solid underfoot, but in my shovel it becomes a billion tiny pieces that flow like water. How does it do that?”

I hear it said a lot, “young children are sponges.” They are learning the world around them, taking in vast amounts of data and integrating it into their knowing. Their quest for information is very natural, very much a part of who they are. They are open, quizzical, experimental, self-directed, uninhibited, compulsive, and at times obsessive. They are firm believers in the notion there are no bad questions. They love to ask “why?” “what?” and “how?” They are sponges. We might also say they are searchers.

When it comes to adult spiritual searching, I contend the most important model we have may be that of young children learning the world for the first time. And this is good news. In some way or another, we’ve all been there before. Our bodies remember. Do you remember digging in dirt?


Between early July and mid-late August I will be taking approximately 6 weeks of vacation and study-leave. Stephany and I have no big plans this summer, but I certainly am looking forward to some much-needed down-time. During the summer Ellen Williams will be serving as the chairperson for the Pastoral Friends Committee. (Her contact info is in the UUS:E directory or at the UUS:E office.) You can contact her for pastoral needs. She will be in touch with me as necessary.

For now, I wish for you a wonderful summer. I wish for you many good questions—Why? What? How? I wish for you many opportunities for digging in the dirt, for returning to your spongey, childhood self, your searching self, the self that has never fully disappeared. I pray you can encounter that self this summer


With love,

Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek