Thursday, March 11, 2010

What Worms Know about Redemption

I’m having an argument with my red wiggler worms. They don’t seem to like their plastic compost bin home. When I check the bin each morning, I find escapees under various flower pots, and a game of “capture the worms” ensues, all before my morning tea. Sophie, my dog, enjoys the game. She’d like to help catch the worms, too, but she’d eat them. They should like their bin, filled with decaying fruit and vegetables, sloppy shredded newsprint, and some damp wood chips thrown in for good measure. A worm’s heaven, I think. Yet they crawl out.

Vermiculture, it’s called. Put veggie and fruit refuse, with enough carbon-based stuff like shredded newsprint and wood chips, add some water and red wiggler worms, and let them go to town. Usually in a month, when they aren’t trying to escape, they have devoured our food waste and excreted worm castings, a scientific term for worm poo, which is high, extremely high, in organic nutrients. So rich, in fact, that you cannot use it for potting soil because the plants would overdose on nutrients. Our garbage pooped into a great natural fertilizer.

Worms take stuff we throw away, that we have no use for, and produce something that nourishes our plants so we can grow things we do have use for.

The great cycle of redemption, demonstrated by worms.

Of course, I want the great cycle of redemption via composting neatly contained in a plastic bin with holes poked in the top. It’s contained and controlled. It’s not particularly messy, and it’s easy to see the results when nothing else is around. Just open the bin and scoop out the fertilizer.

The worms have other ideas.

Worms are not particularly complex, physiologically. They’re worms. Not single-celled, but not that far up the development chain. As far as we know, they don’t read or write or discuss great ideas or even argue about which ways to worship God are valid and which ways are severely deficient.

Yet they act out in their lives the great premise that Christ tried so hard to get us humans to understand - that nothing is wasted in God’s creation. We humans, we creations of God who are magnificently complex and gifted with memory, reason, and skill, seem to fail with some regularity in this arena. We like shiny, new, and clean. If it’s broken or scratched or too old, we call it garbage. If it doesn’t look like something familiar, it’s garbage. If it involves a change of heart from the way we’ve always done it, it’s also garbage.

Worms take garbage and produce a nutrient-rich substance.

With our opposable thumbs and complex brains, perhaps God expects that we, too, can look around the world and see opportunities for redemption instead of garbage and waste. If you’re too poor, too rich, too addicted to drugs or alcohol or money, too fearful or too honest, or too whatever that causes us to pull our hearts from relationship and treat each other as disposable, we put the throw-aways in the great trash bin of the universe, close the lid, and go about life.

Humbling that worms seem to have a better grasp of God than humanity, at times. Their inherent nature is to take the stuff we throw out and make something rich and useful of it. Maybe it’s our nature, too.

We just have to work a bit harder to find it in ourselves.

Redemption, whether worms turning garbage into fertilizer or humans recognizing that all of God’s creation is of value, happens as God would have it, not as we would like it to happen. Sometimes redemption is neat and tidy, easily recognizable and contained within familiar boundaries.

Sometimes, most of the time, redemption needs to work outside the boundaries we’ve set. Subtle and even imperceptible to anyone else but God and the person whose garbage has been turned into rich soil, holy redemption transforms.

Right now, I feel like the person who was the garbage set out, thrown away by one who I hoped knew better, but crumbled when things weren’t perfect. Crumbled like we humans do, actually, when things look messy and spill over the expected boundaries and safe places.

So today, in my place where God is with me, I finally listen to the worms and accept that they know what they want and how to do what they need to do. I dump them in my herb garden and free them from my constraints.

And I begin the process of letting God take my life, sadness and all, and inviting the transformation into something that is of use.

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