Becoming Human

Images and text by Joe Grant © 2022

Foxes have holes,
birds of the air have nests,
but humankind
finds no place to lay its head.

Matthew 8:20

Where do you find restful restoration?

Being schooled in the art of becoming human
by tribal villagers
in the Amazonian heartland,

I learned an ancient truth
heretofore known only
to my primal forest-dwelling minders,

that this wooded, now-threatened expanse
is no accidental wilderness,
but rather the fruit of eons of deliberate, careful cultivation.

Imperceptibly, over uncountable seasons,
indigenous communities, in symbiotic collaboration,
shaped dense forest into lush, overabundant garden.

Woven into the weft
of this evergreen tapestry,
humans became integral balancers of interbeing.

Ethnobotanists attest that
wherever such original inhabitants
are removed from ancestral habitats,

forest, river, and mountains suffer,
biodiversity diminishes,
and shocked motherland mourns her helpers.

The natural world is the maternal source of our being…
the larger sacred community to which we belong.
To be alienated from this community is to become destitute
in all that makes us human.

Thomas Berry

Our self-inflicted extinction looming,
we wrestle with the existential question:
who are we becoming?

Facing a consequential crisis of identity
myriad daily decisions affect the quality of life,
ours and every other in the global garden.

And it is our most endangered indigenous kin,
guardians of planetary biodiversity,
who tend that narrow trail to human reclamation.

Scattered small-scale societies, sprung from soil,
cry out to us to cease and desist
from wanton devastation

and reclaim our birthright
as blessing rather than blight
on the face of the earth.

Why is it taking so long to believe
that if we hurt Nature
we hurt ourselves?

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Through story, ritual, and timeless practice,
artfully they illuminate intimate relationships
within a sacred web of interconnection,

re-minding us that the root and remedy
for chronic, soul-deep alienation
and restless homesickness

lies beneath our soles
before our eyes
and the tips of our fingers.

Everything that is in the heavens,
on the earth, and under the earth,
is penetrated with connectedness,
penetrated with relatedness.

Hildegard von Bingen

Like most of our kindred creatures,
human beings arrive
naked and needy.

The lifelong pilgrimage into personhood
requires regular inoculations from
the hubris of self-infatuated mastery,

for the wholeness we sorely seek
will not be found
in fruitless attempts at delusional dominion.

Before we can become who we really are,
we must become conscious of the fact
that the person who we think we are,
here and now, is at best an impostor and a stranger.

Thomas Merton

In a geological blink we find ourselves on the brink,
rudely awakening to the reality
that, beyond continued co-existence,

our soul-scape is defined by
how deeply we are willing to fall in love with,
to live into, and to learn from the very ground of our being.

No matter where wandering takes you,
sauntering on Sante Terre, may you
reverence holy ground, ever ready to welcome you home.

Wholly Grounded

Pilgrim feet find home,
each step gracing Holy Land
where sole touches soil.

Joe Grant, Scratchings


Available here

Scratchings is so much more than a collection of poetry and reflective verse. It is eye-opener, mindfulness-maker, veil-lifter, kinship-keeper. It is a portal into the sacred arising through the ordinary, an entryway into the soul-full-ness of every single thing. Joe’s in-sight and perception not only show us, they teach us: scratch the surface of any single thing and, indeed, you’ll find it lit from within; only “pay dues of attention” to any experience and you’ll find burning bushes at every turn. If you’re wanting a quick read, opt for a different book; if you want to linger with life and swim out into mystery, let Scratchings be your companion.

  • JoAnn Gates, Director of Knobs Haven Retreat Center, Loretto, Kentucky

Wake Up to Wilderness

Text and images by Joe Grant © 2022

I am a wilderness voice, shouting,
“Straighten a pathway for the Holy.”


What awakens you to the wilderness cry?

Light lengthens,
flowing inexorably toward equinox,
and all round the northern rim spring is tightly coiled.

Reeling from the roar
and wanton wastage of war,
we worry as history predictably rhymes.

In confused wastelands
of ash and rubble
where precious lives lie cruelly crushed,

behind suffocating smoke and sorrow
an ancient ache heaves and sighs for another way,
a different direction, a great turnaround.

Surely the era of domination,
supremacy, subjugation
has long since passed.

The wreckage of “civilization”
cries out
from monumental ruins and museums

broadcasting its humbling truth
that, sooner or later,
every empire must crumble.

Inevitably, under nature’s patient vigil,
monumental epochs and idols, return to dust—primordial
paste of recreation.
With stubborn tenacity, green shoots and soft
rains eventually expunge every trace of hubris, and with
gentle persistence welcome human-kin back into a greater
chorus, with the wild embrace of natural renovation.

Joe Grant, Scratchings

When the Carpenter’s Way became Roman Rule,
some returned to the life-affirming palace of wilderness,
to recover “eremos”- wild place of silent solitude.

These desert-dwelling hermits
sought to reclaim age-old
wisdom that inspires the poet, prophets and mystic in us.

Bewildered by nature, among untamed creature kin,
healing they sought
and hermitage they found, from …

imperial forces and slavish lifestyles,
the conquest of land and populations,
the commodification of Creation and canonization of violence.

We each must have two pockets …
In right pocket are the words,
“For my sake was the world created.”
In the left, “I am earth and ashes.”

Rabbi Bunam

While contentious cries, faded flags, false ideologies
rouse and rally masses
for the manufacture of death,

rooted in imperial domination,
consumer culture continues
to exact its toll on soil and soul.

Deprived of sacramental communion with the wilds
humus-beings seek solace in synthetic spiritualities
and distant, divorced divinities.

Deaf to the voice of wilderness,
how on earth do we recover hermitage,
solitude of the wilds that reclaims and leads us home?

Something sacred is coming this way.
That is how my ancestors would have said it.
In the midst of all this turmoil and confusion,
when we cannot clearly see the path before us,
when we feel trapped in a situation we cannot control,
then I believe the wise elders of my holy heritage
would climb to the high place of the heart,
draw the circle of reason and faith around them,
and stand to sing their prayers into the open sky of the history to come.
They would not shrink into a corner afraid,
but rise up to catch the first light of what was coming into being all around them.
We are living in a time of emergence.
We are the witnesses to a great renewal.
The world is full of the fear of birth and change,

Steven Charleston, Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, memeber of the Choctaw nation


Available here

Scratchings invites one to explore a world of meaning delving deep beyond the surface to something truly human, truly spirit, truly personal. Challenged to ask the hard, difficult questions, the ones that come when you are deep in silence, or tending a garden, I found that Scratchings takes you on a path not necessarily where you will find the answers but to a profound engagement in the on-going and evolving search for truth. Your own. Touching a yesterday that opens gently into a tomorrow. A safe place to remember. A wonderful place to Dream.

  • Sr. Sue Scharfenberger, osu, Lima, Peru.