Meditation by a Compost Pile

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash: green grass sprouting in dark soil by fence

When I was a student at Regent College I was introduced to a lovely little essay by C.S. Lewis called “Meditation in a Toolshed.” I have never been able to forget the title, and when I see beams of sunlight illuminating things in my own garden shed at home, I often think of Lewis’ work. Gardens can be places for meditation, and for creation as well; living things germinate and grow there. I think the oldest story in the world speaks of new people being formed in a garden, making God himself the Gardener above all gardeners.

The Scriptures begin and end with paradisiacal gardens, and the metaphor of God planting and growing people connects the whole story of salvation and nourishes it like an elaborate root system. The New Testament speaks of the church as “God’s field”: harvests being brought in, orchards grown, vineyards tended, seeds sown, and on it goes. Building on this great and green biblical tradition I want to take you out to my backyard for a few minutes of meditation on church life around a compost pile.

I’ve been considering this chapter of my life as one in which I hope to enrich and develop the next generation. One of the values of Varsity Bible Church is to be a community that grows people across generations and a word of Scripture that many in my age bracket have recently heard is Psalm 71:18: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your truth to the next generation.” For this compost meditation I want to stir up your imagination with a few questions to mix old thoughts with new ones and see what starts to grow.

Questions for spiritual composting:

Here’s a scientific question: Where does the compost pile get its nutrients from? The beauty of what’s happening in our own backyard is that as old plant matter decomposes, the nutrients it contains go on to nourish the next generation. Carbon is needed, and the right ratio of nitrogen, along with thousands of microbial decomposers at work. All these microbes need to do their job is food and some oxygen.

Here’s a theological question: Could the old leaves from last year that are thrown into the compost pile be singing ‘hallelujah' to our Creator as they serve the next generation of leaves by disintegrating for their sake?

Here’s an ecclesiastical question: Can a church thrive without the presence of godly older members who are willing to stick around and be composted for the kingdom? Can we sing ‘hallelujah’ as we dive into the pile and pour our lives into the younger members of our church?

There is type of composting called “cold” or “slow” composting. Since all organic materials eventually will decompose you can simply throw it all together and wait. It works, just walk through a forest and you’ll see the marvelous results. But if you take the effort to mix the old with the new and let in some oxygen, then things start to really heat up. A well-tended compost pile can reach 77°C (170°F) and become useful fertilizer in a month. Stirring up the pile weekly allows the oxygen to get in. It also mixes the old organic material with the newer. In with the old, and in with the new.

Presently I am working with Crossroads Community Church and things have been stirred up there. They have come to see that the time between pastors, this transition time, is an opportunity for growth. There is no time for “cold” or “slow” composting. On the hopeful side there is a wonderful mix of godly older saints at Crossroads who are mixed in with the younger generations. I was thrilled to see seniors helping kids in the Awana club with their memory verses. The Transition Team which will guide the church during my time with them is comprised of wonderful women and men from across the generations. I’m confident that God is at work and that as we plant and water the seeds of change, God will bring the growth.

As I reflect on life with Varsity Bible Church, I think we too have been stirred up. The Varsity 2020 season is really a growing season. We’re mixing old strategies with new ones. Our leadership has intentionally stirred things up and we are asking: “How does our garden grow? What needs to be pruned? What is bearing fruit? Who will take care of this garden? How will we nurture life in the next generation?”

I’ll leave you with one more image. Compost, like manure, like Christians, is meant to be spread around. If you just pile it up in one place it starts to stink. Perhaps the Master Gardener, who stirred up his people in the Exodus, who stirred up his people with the exile, who stirred up his people with the persecutions in Jerusalem, wants to spread us around for the good of His world. Stirred but not shaken.

With hope, Keith

Notes: I initially came up with the idea of composting as a metaphor for leadership development last year. As I prepared this article, I thought I’d search the Net and discovered that a professor at Sarum Theological School in the U.K., did exactly that as well. So, I wrote him and asked permission to pass on this link to an article he wrote called ‘Contemplating Compost’. He seemed like a delightful fellow and I shared that I like his ‘rotting’ article.

Contemplating Compost: Leadership Lessons from the Natural World

I also mentioned C.S. Lewis article “ Meditation in a Toolshed” and I highly recommend it.

Meditation in a Toolshed

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