I glanced at an email last week from Kristen Tippet’s radio program. The top billing read Composing a Life, but I read Composting a Life, which I thought was a brilliant idea—composing a life precisely by composting your life.
I read Mary Catherine Bateson’s book (Composing a Life) over a decade ago. I remember it being a fascinating read. She is the daughter of Margaret Meade and Gregory Bateson, a fairly heady gene pool.
Like most people I know these days, we compost. All the kitchen scraps end up in a big oil barrel out back. (Not a bad use for all the oil barrels that will soon be obsolete). We don’t get fancy, with layering, turning, and all that. Yet, I never really get over the alchemical magic of it. I open the lid, the heat rises (the serious work of transformation is happening!), the earth worms (where did they come from?) are participating in the metabolization of the waste into soil, and the fragrance of the underlying humous is divine.
My father has been composting forever. He grew up on a farm and knows all about the alchemy of soil-creation. He told me once that he never really gets over the the miracle of it.
My plan is to use this batch of fresh soil as the base for a couple of roses out front. Kitchen scraps transformed into beauty.
It makes sense to me that this is the primary spiritual discipline: composing a life by composting a life.
Jesus was alway talking about the need to divest and let go of all the scraps of one’s lives. In the human realm the challenge for us is that we have a difficult time sorting out the scraps that need to be tossed in the compost bin from what is really important to hang on to. (Which pretty much comes down to soul).
All the stuff we don’t need—old trauma, belief systems, self-images, excessive wealth, and ultimately, the personality—is not wasted in Jesus’ composting system of spiritual development. The compost bin is G_d. G_d’s love metabolizes all that stuff and turns it into pure gold—a life that is truly alive. One that is dedicated to being a medium to nourish and draw out the innate radiance and glory of oneself and others.
I like the image of G_d as a divine dung heap, the one who takes all that we no longer need and does the metabolizing trick, transforming lives. I like the idea that even our trauma, when we’ve worked it through and we’re ready to let go of it, is not wasted. All the energy that went into compensating for the trauma is now available for love, for evolution, and the “gay, great happening, illimitably life”.
The discipline is daily composting, an inquiry into what is ready to go into the compost bin. Could be a chip on your shoulder. Might be a habit that is serving nobody. Or an addiction. Whatever it is, it also requires a commitment to daily “die” to whatever it is that is keeping us from the open-hearted life. But of course that is the spiritual paradox. This death is but a transformation. Learning to trust that in just one lifetime is a challenge.
Maybe this is how the cross actually works. In his death, Jesus took upon himself all the violence, greed, and lust for power. He acted like the dung heap. (Wasn’t Golgotha a dung heap? I’ll have to check my sources.) He drew (and continues to draw) all of this darkness out of us. Everything that is not love was tossed in the composting bin of his heart, there to be transformed. The rose that is a new humanity is even now making its way through the dark loam.
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