Like a religious ritual, I carry our weekly offering in a plastic bag to the compost pile, a growing mound behind our house exactly thirty paces from the kitchen sink. The table scraps – rinds of clementines and stalks of broccoli, lemon peels and banana skins, coffee filters and tissue papers, forgotten kale retrieved from the refrigerator, a thick slice of red onion too aged for my taste – are mixed with last fall’s maple leaves and once potted mums.
I’m not a lifelong composter. If there is a particular skill set needed, I probably don’t have it. I know I don’t stir the mix enough, and the pile is either too wet or too dry. Yet, the endeavor is forgiving. More importantly, I feel good every time I add more scraps to the collection. I’m pretty sure our “in-sink-erator” garbage disposal feels the same.
I never imagined a connection between composting and things theological, but during this Holy Week I’m pretty sure I see one. Life’s debris – our losses, the hurts heaped on us and those we heap on others, our wars and hatreds, the alliances we make with oppressors, our bruised egos, the pride that makes the acknowledgement of wrong difficult, our failure of courage, the way we build ourselves up by cutting others down, our indifference to global inequities, the prejudice of our many “isms”, our unkind words, the evil to which we gladly contribute, the good we are hesitant to support, our relentless quest for the big prize, the masks we wear to keep our inner selves concealed, our arrogance on how it has to be – gets tossed on the compost pile and mixed in with the offering of previous weeks.
Occasionally, certain human beings walk among us in such a way that they enter the debris, take it upon themselves and transform it. Jesus was such a one. Traditional theologies assert that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by dying on the cross and paying the price for our sins. Rather than seeing the death of Jesus as a transaction with God, I find the metaphor of composting more helpful and biblical. St. Paul says that Jesus “humbled himself unto death.” The Latin word is humilis, meaning low and close to the ground. It’s the word from which we get our English word humus, the nutrient-fortified soil derived from decomposed plants and organic material. Compost.
Spiritual composting happens whenever the world’s debris gets absorbed and ultimately transformed into the earthen-rich material that God had in mind when God’s hands first went digging in the Genesis soil of Eden. That’s the work to which Jesus committed himself and invites us to join him, not in the next life but in this one.