'For Dust Thou Art': The Spiritual Practice of Green Burial | Sojourners

Sojourners

Brightly colored flowers lay on top of a willow casket in a freshly dug grave

A wicker casket is placed in the soil. / Larkspur Conservation

'For Dust Thou Art': The Spiritual Practice of Green Burial

A relationship with God means our bodies and the earth are not separate.
By Mallory McDuff

Mallory McDuff is the author of Our Last Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love. She spoke with Sojourners' Betsy Shirley.

“GREEN BURIAL” IS a broad term that means burial without embalming, a concrete vault, or materials that don’t biodegrade. Prior to the Civil War, embalming wasn’t common practice in the U.S., and we didn’t have these concrete vaults lining the grave and further separating the body from the soil.

I think there’s a growing sense now that a relationship with God also means our bodies and the earth are not separate.There are other practices that are also more sustainable, like aquamation—a form of cremation using water and lye—or even body composting. Ask what’s available in your region. One of those options for me is conservation burial grounds where the land is protected in perpetuity; the money you spend to buy a plot goes toward the restoration of that land.

You can get a willow casket. You can make a pine casket. You can wrap your dad in tablecloth linens, as I did with my father. Those decisions can be important, but they go back to that relationship with the earth and with each other. There are people who are going to be carrying that shrouded body and putting it into the earth and covering it with soil, and children who will be throwing flower petals onto that earth.

It’s not just about the environment. It’s also about involving family and friends in these rituals of death which, from my experience, allow us to live into the loss of someone we love and carry their love with us.

This appears in the May 2022 issue of Sojourners

Mallory McDuff is the author of Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love and teaches environmental education at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.