Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post Compost

Whenever I go to Drumlin Farm, a local Audubon sanctuary, I visit the compost heap. What draws me to this vegetable mass grave ? You'd think that skeletally picturesque autumn would be enough for camerawoman -- weeds withering in place, pods dying on the vine -- without her having to visit this place of cull and rot.

One day last week, in the midst of everything usual and mundane, I had the sudden sense that I was -- that we all are -- bright little dreams of Being, fragile, evanescent, contingent little nodes of awareness, connected to one another and rooted in Being as our collective source and collective destination.

And, unlike a squash or a leek, we talk. "We are the children of God," we say. Our words are endearingly, heartbreakingly, quaint. They only hint at our deepest intuition, our most fervent, quixotic hope, our most radical, terrified assent. Religion is nothing if it doesn't penetrate, plumb, and strive to represent what is most real, most true, most actual.

But we quibble, even fight -- even slaughter -- over words, forgetting that we are, all of us, creatures of the worm-infested humus. Instead of falling to our knees with awe and praise, instead of embracing each other in compassion and love, we argue over words and statutes, we struggle to prevail, we lord it over one another. We want the three devilish things that Christ rejected: possessions, prestige, and power. And we want them in vast, limitless quantities. And, furthermore, we will do whatever it takes to get them, whatever mendacious, corrupt, oppressive, persecutory thing, even as we tell ourselves that we are good, and that we unquestionably deserve every blessing that befalls us.

I am, I think, drawn to the compost heap as Melville's Ishmael was drawn to the sea:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.

There is something bracing and unfathomable about this cresting wave of hay and cast off vegetables. Particle and wave, emptiness and form, being and non-being, death and resurrection -- it's all here, and it's all haunted by the great white whale of our idea of God. Here is the straw-filled manger,

here is the brood hen's sheltering wing

and here is compline's final Ave Maris Stella, maternal star twinkling like a tear-filled eye

over all her crucified and crucifying children.

It's October. We are slogging through the dregs of ordinary time. All Saints' Day and Advent seem impossibly far off. What is the combustive mystery of this aromatic heap of decaying plant life ? That this year's compost will fertilize the fields and be reborn as next year's carrot ?

Oh, tell me something I don't know -- or, better still, show me what smoulders at the triplicate core of the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again --

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