By MegAnne Liebsch
April 22, 2022 — To change a putting green hole, my father uses a long cylindrical tool, a kind of giant cookie cutter. When he presses down, it cuts a foot deep into the earth and brings up a perfect core of layered soil.
My father kneels beside me on the green, tracing his finger along the grass roots, which stretch and knit, impossibly, along the entire 12-inch core. It astounds me. How can plants so tiny and delicate create such a vast empire in the soil? My dad shares my amazement, though it’s not a new sight for him. He spends most of his day looking at roots, soil and miniscule blades of grass.
As a child, my family lived on a golf course, in a small ranch house sandwiched between two holes. My father worked as the groundskeeper. Almost daily, he would whisk my siblings and I across the course in his golf cart, quizzing us on soil hardiness zones, showing us bird nests and baby turtles, or, if we were lucky, letting us run in the fairway sprinklers.
I learned from my father the language of awe—the delight of a heron skimming the surface of a golf course pond or the marvel of deciduous trees flashing their autumnal leaves like crown jewels. Nearly every day for 25 years, my father has woken up at 4am to, quite literally, watch grass grow. And every day, that tiny botanical triumph thrills him. I believe my greatest inheritance from my father is this—reverent gratitude for our natural world, unceasing joy in its overlooked gifts of dirt and water.
So I was excited to receive this Earth Day poem from our contributor, Cameron Bellm. She told me she didn’t set out to write a poem about dirt, but I’m so happy she did. To this day, I love the feeling of soil on my hands. It roots me to Earth, to my family, to our Creator.
Read her poem here, and continue the reflection below.
A Prayer for Holding and Being Held By the Earth
If you are feeling far away from God,
Go outside and sink your fingers into the dirt.
Whether it’s red clay or glacial till,
It was all brought forth by the great mystery of love,
Which set millions of unseen processes into motion—
Wind sweeping volcanic ash across the land,
Time and water compressing tiny bits of rock
Into the symphony of soil you hold in your hands.
Nudge it gently with your finger
Until you can see each individual grain,
Varying ever so slightly in color and size,
For the song of sacred creativity rings out in every place.
Remember: it was just such dust into which God breathed.
Remember: it is the very same God who breathes into you.
In many ways, a golf course is an odd place to become an environmentalist. Golf courses are cultivated—a place where nature is groomed for human sport. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen how water waste and chemical runoff can impact communities around golf courses (not to mention the economic and social exclusivity of golf club culture).
Nonetheless, living on a golf course taught me important lessons. In spring, I played pretend in the copses of trees that edged the property, carefully plucking wild daffodil and crocus to arrange on my windowsill. In summer, my siblings and I swam in the silty creek, alongside tiny crustaceans, water striders and dragonflies. Through play and exploration, I formed a deep relationship to the land, a reverence for my non-human neighbors. And I learned from my father the lesson of reciprocity—that with our care, Creation will care for us.
In the words of Bellm, if I hold the Earth, Earth will hold me.
MegAnne Liebsch is the communications manager for the Office of Justice and Ecology of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.
Read previous Spirit & Verse poem-prayers by Cameron Bellm:
A Prayer for the Feast of St. Óscar Romero
A Prayer for Liminal Spaces
Answer the Knock: An Advent Prayer
Mary, Mother of Us All
A Prayer for World Day of Migrants and Refugees
A Prayer for Peace When the World is on Fire
A Prayer for the Ignatian Year
A Prayer for the Month of the Sacred Heart
A Prayer for Mary’s Month During a Pandemic
St. Joseph Prayer
A Prayer for Ash Wednesday
A Prayer for the Feast of the Epiphany
A Prayer for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
A Prayer for the Month of the Holy Souls
A Prayer for Living “Fratelli Tutti”
Our Lady of Sorrows
A Prayer for the Beginning of the School Year
A Prayer for the Feast of St. Ignatius
Cameron Bellm is a Seattle-based writer of prayers, poems, and devotionals. After completing her Ph.D. in Russian literature at the University of California, Berkeley, she traded the academic life for the contemplative life, informed by Ignatian spirituality and Catholic social teaching. She is the author of “A Consoling Embrace: Prayers for a Time of Pandemic” (23rd Publications, 2020). Cameron and her husband have two young sons, and, blessedly, playing with Legos often nurtures her spiritual life as much as reading the lectionary. You can find her at cameronbellm.com and on Instagram, @cameronbellm.