Good Zeal

Dust Bowl and Ashes

plate of ashesIn 2012, I watched a PBS documentary about the 1930’s Dust Bowl. Those images returned to me at the beginning of Lent. Do you recall that tragic story of the severe drought and dust storms that ravaged the Prairies during the 1930’s? It got me reflecting on why the Dust Bowl happened, how it could have been prevented, and the spiritual parallels for our lives.

Before Americans moved west, the Prairies were covered in tall prairie grasses. These native grasses supported a lush eco-system and protected the virgin topsoil (the top 5-10 inches containing the highest concentration of life supporting organic matter). Because their root systems plunged 8-9 feet deep, native grasses trapped moisture and soil during periodic drought and high winds. Unfortunately, in the attempt to increase grain harvest, farmers deep plowed (20” deep rather than normal 8” plowing) larger and larger expanses of prairie land. When years of drought and high winds persisted, there was nothing left to anchor the precious topsoil and moisture. Once a flourishing ecosystem, the Prairie was reduced to choking clouds of whirling dust.

God’s good creation is full of spiritual parallels and wisdom!! What is the life nurturing “topsoil” that produces a healthy, fruitful Christian life? What is the “deep root system” that sustains the Christian life even in difficult times? What is the health of my spiritual “garden”? How can I protect it from being ravaged? When I find myself in a spiritual “Dust Bowl,” how can I repair that “ecosystem”?

Lent is a good time for me to ponder these questions. After all, on Ash Wednesday, I received ashes—the remains of destroyed palms–on my forehead. This year those ashes reminded me of God’s rules of “good gardening” for the spiritual life, and the grace of the Divine Gardener to help repair the “Dust Bowl” of what I have done and what I have left undone.

By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB

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