We are not expert gardeners at our house. We planted some tulip bulbs last fall and were jubilant when, with very little help from us, they came up. You would have thought we terraformed the moon with all the exultant joy we had at these tulips!
But my own skills notwithstanding, I have been contemplating the act of gardening this summer. And what has captured my wonder the most has been the compost pile, of all things.
Paying attention to compost firstly calls me to pay attention to God’s design, God’s automatic earth (Mark 4 in the Greek). Where the sand and silt from the earth’s crust is nourished by the organic matter that comes from dying things it becomes humus, the substance from which new life can grow. In this incredibly designed and interconnected ecosystem, microorganisms, bacteria, fungi – even worms and insects – all work to decompose the organic matter, taking the nutrients from the laid down matter and using them to nourish new life. Life on earth directly comes from this pattern of death and resurrection. Talk about Christ being present from the beginning, the firstborn of all creation!
OUR PHYSICAL WASTE
The second thing that paying attention to the compost shows me is that the humble gardener can participate with this, God’s design. In this world of God’s, matter matters. So much, in fact, that God created it and to this day sustains it. Matter matters so much that God became matter to save it. This should make us stop in our tracks. Because it means that what we do with the matter we have been given might also matter to faithfulness. Bodies, soil, land, crops – all we produce – either participates with God’s automatic earth or hinders its work. Matter matters, and the compost pile truth is making me slow right down and wonder about my actions. Is what I do with the physical waste of my life a matter of worship, a matter of faithfulness?
But what I think has drawn me to the compost pile most profoundly is the joyful truth it is proclaiming in all its eggshell, coffee grounds, broccoli-stem goodness – that the things thrown on the refuse pile of our lives are not an end but a new beginning. As journalist Jeff Chu writes, “A robust theology of compost reminds us that death and the things of death – our sin, our suffering, the endless ways we hurt each other, the numerous ways we harm ourselves – are never the end of the story” (jeffchu.com). As he says, all the ways we demean and diminish God’s creation in each other, in ourselves, in this earth, all that is meant for death and destruction? Well, that is just not the last word.
GOD'S SIGNATURE MOVE
And this brings hope: that God has written the redemption story into the humblest realities we live with, the ground we walk on, the very fabric of the earth. The wonder of compost is in its many parts – microbes, carbon, nitrogen, worms, minerals and nutrients – working together to do something truly miraculous and incredibly beautiful. The challenge of compost is in the ways God has designed us to participate with him, experiencing the joy of faithful handling of his creation. And the hope of our lives is in the ways that this story of death and resurrection turns fear into love, contempt into compassion, other-ness into kinship, the tangle of sin into the tapestry of communion. It’s God’s signature move! Redemption is made, crafted out of the compost pile of our lives.
This world is God’s and everything in it. Every square inch of it. He is the Grand Gardener. Suddenly Mary’s “mistake” of seeing a gardener when she saw the Risen Christ is made profound. He is the one who turns that compost into dark, rich soil and from there grows the things that bring life to the world. And we can witness to this every time we get out there in the garden and proclaim God’s design for resurrection life, up close and under our fingernails.
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