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Being the Salt of the EarthBy Gena Minnix
“You are the salt of the earth…”
What might these words mean during seasons of life when we’re feeling stressed, depressed, on the verge of despair? Depression is a real thing, as many of us know all too well. Our politics and elections may not actually have the power to make us depressed, but our traumas surely do. Trauma is another word for really overwhelming situations that appear to threaten our safety or that of our loved ones – making it difficult for us to cope, think clearly, be playful, have fun, and believe we’re loved.
In Matthew 5:13, Jesus says: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” These words are part of the Sermon on the Mount. Right before, he’s given a list of blessings to groups of people who felt anything but– the poor, the mourning, the hungry, the marginalized, people acquainted with trauma and stress. Theologians have several theories about why Jesus uses salt here: it can be used to cleanse wounds and stimulate healing – so maybe He’s suggesting these people are healers? It can be a preservative – so maybe we’re protecting something? Keeping it safe from decay? One historian I read suggested it was because in Biblical days each village had a common outdoor oven. And for fuel they used was camel dung mixed with salt because salt has catalytic properties which causes manure to burn. I think all those images offer something helpful, but I especially like that last one!
Then there’s a final theory and because Jesus mentions the taste of salt, I think it’s possible this is what He meant: salt enhances the flavor of whatever it’s added to. It won’t turn bad soup good, and sometimes we need to work on changing the soup. But salt can bring out the subtle goodness that may be there but be difficult to detect. So what is the flavor of salt? Well, for one thing, it’s the flavor of tears. It’s the flavor of sweat and hard work. Salt is what flows out of us when we’re stressed and/or heartbroken. Last week, I was talking with a counseling student who commented how overwhelmed she feels when listens to the news. And then she said something that stayed with me: “Paying attention to what hurts me the most, helps me know what’s mine to do.”
That may sound paradoxical, but it’s true that our salty emotions will not overpower us if we can find ways to give them space and time and our attention. What they actually do is help us feel more alive and awake and clear about what’s ours and what’s not ours to do something about. How then can we lose our saltiness? I think perhaps that happens when we become numb to what we’re feeling and experiencing – when we find we’re just going through the motions… anesthetizing… checking out. And that may be necessary at times, but when we’re ready to reengage, how can our saltiness be restored? How can we practice experiencing a more full range of human emotion again?
Maybe this looks like starting counseling to get a handle on what we’re feeling, or taking up a prayer and meditation practice, twenty minutes at a time, sitting with God and just noticing what I’m feeling. And God is a great place to start, because God is so brutally honest with us. So when we share with God the salty parts of our life, God’s like, “Yep, I see it. I see your pain. It’s real. Here’s the part you can do about it… here’s the part you can’t do anything about. But you’re not alone. I’m with you. I’m in it with you.” No matter what friends, we’re not alone. May we be people willing to sweat and cry together, and thereby making God visible to one another. Perhaps this is how we bring out the subtle goodness in our circumstances – our way of being salt in the world.
Questions for Reflection:
When I’m feeling stressed or depressed, what do I tend to do to numb, distract, or avoid feeling what I’m feeling?
How might I practice setting aside time to sweat and cry over what breaks my heart?
Who in my life might feel alone in their suffering? How can I help them feel less alone?
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