It remains to be seen whether I will master the (surprisingly complex) process of turning organic waste…into fertile soil.
But I have discovered that my fancy new “HotFrog Dual Body Tumbling Composter” makes for a fine way to entertain grandsons.
That may, in fact, be what their mother had in mind…when Darling Daughter presented said composter to me as a Christmas gift last week. (But I doubt it: She’s already promised to get me a book on composting, as a follow-on to the equipment itself.)
In the meantime, as I wait with bated breath for these detailed instructions to arrive, I find that I take great satisfaction in simply watching her two sons interact with the device. I mean, really: Who needs Hot Wheels…when you can take two 23” drums for a spin?
But I was even more intrigued when the Little Guy discovered that he could remove the door, and peer into the empty drum. Within seconds, he began chanting into the void: “Hello in there!” Delighted by the echo, he repeated the phrase again and again – each verse punctuated by a giggle.
Something about this toddler’s rite of self-assertion stirred my soul, especially as I look back on what most of us have judged a compost-heap of a year.
I know very few people (new parents, perhaps?) who will remember 2020 fondly. But the more I reflect on the conventional wisdom surrounding our global annus horribilis, the more I’ve grown to dislike what this widespread judgment says about us. About me.
Here’s the thing about our reaction to the virus: It tends to convict us all of taking ourselves far too seriously. We bristle at the extraordinary disruption it causes in our lives. We mourn the (too many) lives lost. We act as if we are the first generation ever to have suffered such a pandemic. And in the process, we tend to puff ourselves up – as if somehow, we believe we deserve better than this.
The coronavirus teaches us, among other things, that just the opposite is true. Like every plague throughout human history, COVID-19 offers proof that virtually every one of us is expendable, and forgettable. We live, we die…and we are swallowed up by time.
Earlier this year, I heard something on retreat that kinda put things in perspective for me. “Gazing at a night sky full of stars,” our retreat director said, “how unsettling it can be to learn (in the era of the Hubble telescope) that each point of light is not a star…but an entire galaxy. A galaxy comprised of hundreds of millions of stars. The Milky Way alone,” she said, “contains something on the order of 100 billion stars.”
Sit with that fact for a moment: A hundred billion stars.
A hundred billion stars teaches us – just as the virus does – that we simply are not all that significant. Our lives, our histories, never amount to much more than a cosmic speck of dust.
And yet, into this frightful insignificance waltzes God.
God knows better than we ever could how it’s really all just bluster. We are all posers. Nothing we do or say ultimately matters – except when we love.
We love, and suddenly the vast uncaring universe opens wide, to reveal an entry point for God.
We look to the heavens, and discover a truth beyond our insignificance. We learn, by loving, that God is not yet done creating the cosmos. And more: that God desires our participation in this ongoing creative act.
This gets to the heart of the matter, I think, when it comes to assessing a year like 2020. Assessing, not blessing.
I notice that hardly any part of my heart is inclined to be grateful for the way the year has played out. Throughout these dreary months of pandemic, life has often seemed more like an affliction than a gift. My heart longs for control, a return to order. But this desire is nothing more than a destructive idol in my life. (The Romans desired control in Judea, after all, and they were willing to crucify God in order to maintain it.)
So how do I obtain freedom from this idol, my debilitating and unrelenting desire for control? It seems like an ingrained sinfulness, a pattern of thinking I cannot conquer on my own.
But perhaps it’s a grace simply to have noticed this pattern, as I turn the page to a new calendar year. The odd blessing to come out of 2020 is the discovery of an (erstwhile hidden) imperfection in my heart. And I’m being called to lay it, like all my sins, at the foot of the cross.
Who knows? By taking this first step, surely Christ can then begin to turn more and more of my self-involved garbage…into something truly useful…in 2021 and beyond.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
And now…for a bit of Cosmic Perspective…courtesy of BuzzFeed: