There’s nothing God can’t use

By  Angela M. Saldanha, Catholic Register Special
  • June 4, 2007
{mosimage}“One is closer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth” goes the old saying. I have always known this. But I hadn’t particularly thought of the divine in connection with compost until I read God of Surprises.
In this thought-provoking book, Gerard Hughes says we should be able to see Christ in the midst of a rotting rubbish heap, the rubbish being the feelings of guilt and worthlessness we experience at times, stemming from our awareness of the wrong paths we’ve taken in our life. If we can look at that mess, ask Christ to show Himself to us in it, feel His presence there beside us, we know there is hope.

One night, shortly after reading this, I had a dream. In my dream there was a great pile of garbage that seemed to be my life. The wrong things I’d done, the things I’d failed to do, the things I most regretted, all the pitiful fragments of my life. As I looked with horror at the heap, I remembered what I’d read and tried to visualize Christ beside me, looking at the mess with me. I couldn’t. But I kept trying, willing Him to be there, telling myself He was there, even though I couldn’t see Him.

Slowly, under my despairing gaze, the heap began to change — it seemed to be altering, decomposing, reforming itself. Now it wasn’t so much garbage as humus. Soon there was this enormous high pile of rich, dark, earthy, sweet smelling compost.

Surveying it with satisfaction, I woke with a start, thinking, “Wow! What couldn’t I do with a heap like that!” Almost immediately, the thought was followed by, “what couldn’t God do with a heap like that.”

{sidebar id=2}Being an ardent gardener/composter, I found the image an encouraging one. Good compost makes for strong, healthy, productive plants — and the more there is of it the better. But compost is only made up of stuff that’s been discarded because it’s unfit for anything else — inedible, unsightly, unwanted. Just plain bad. Was it possible, I wondered, that in the same way, God could take the stuff of my past — all the awful bits and pieces that I was less than happy about — and transform them into something positive? Something good?

The idea was appealing. It meant that nothing of my past was a total write off. In the hands of the Almighty it could become something beneficial. The realization overwhelmed me; I wanted to dance for joy. I lay awake long that night, mentally contemplating my garbage-turned-compost heap, reminding myself that there was nothing — absolutely nothing — that God could not use. My personal rubbish heap, ghastly though it was, might have redeeming value. I just had to hand over my past to the Lord, completely, unreservedly, confident that He would recycle it.

This might take some time, of course. Compost doesn’t happen overnight. But so long as I was willing to let go, trusting God to deal with it all, the miracle would take place. Letting go is never easy. But it’s only when stuff has been “dumped” on the heap that the transformation process begins.

I ponder these things, now, when I’m on my knees, working in my backyard. A couple of years ago, I acquired a new shiny black composter. In very short order it was full of unwanted bits from kitchen and yard. Nothing went to waste. It gave me immense satisfaction to toss my scraps into it, knowing that in due course, they would be transformed. In addition to the black composter, though, I have a plain, common or garden heap. On this too, I dumped scraps, dead leaves and spent plants. With the coming of spring last year, as the last clumps of snow reluctantly melted away and the soggy ground became fit for human foot, I made a tour of inspection of my back yard. Raking dead leaves off the top of the compost heap, I was thrilled to discover a whole forest of seedlings nestled underneath. But the temperature was barely above zero, so carefully, tenderly, I raked the leaves back over and waited.

On a day when the sun shone warm and robins were alleluiaing in the treetops, I checked on my heap again. Carefully clearing away masses of dead leaves, I began identifying the eager little shoots. I was thrilled. A batch of tomato seedlings, clumps of Shasta daises, a couple of cucumbers, some outrageously pink petunias, a whole forest of butternut squash. And a sunflower which eventually grew to be two-and-a-half metres tall.

Unwanted weeds were carefully picked out and taken away to do duty in the black bin. The squash and tomatoes were thinned out and left to grow in happy proximity with pink poppies that suddenly sprouted in profusion. The messy looking heap became a thing of beauty. New life — abundant life — had sprung from the old. I wouldn’t even need to fertilize anything, since it was growing in compost. All I had to do was harvest the produce and give thanks. Thanks and praise.

Incredibly, this bonanza had come entirely from waste matter. All through those long months of winter, when it seemed as though nothing was happening, and the earth was at rest, the Master Gardener had been silently at work, transforming useless into useful, unsightliness into beauty. And if such splendour, such abundance, could come from rotting rubbish, there was hope for me. God could take my past, no matter what a hopeless mess I’d made of it, and bring forth something beautiful.

St. Paul was right. “To them that love the Lord, all things work together for good.”

(Saldanha is a freelance writer in Brechin, Ont.)

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