From compost to new life—the promise of spring

Holy Wisdom Monastery Benedictine Bridge, Oblates 1 Comment

by Sherri Hansen, Oblate class of 2010

Sherri Hansen gardens with her niece Cadia Rose in their main farm garden in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin.

Sherri Hansen gardens with her niece Cadia Rose in their main farm garden in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin.

As ice melts and the world becomes green, I never cease to be amazed at the promise of spring and rebirth. Like many gardeners, I am eager to get out in my beds and prepare for the new season. Gardening, for me, is a spiritual and contemplative practice in being in the present moment. Each day brings the ritual watering, weeding and reveling in fleeting floral beauty. One of the most important parts of my garden is my compost pile. In the spring, as I rake and turn it, I see fragments of flowers and vegetable material caught betwixt and between the many stages of decomposition. I pause to consider the legacy it provides.

The compost pile seems full of dead foliage and long faded blooms, but it is a reservoir of memories of joy and happiness. It contains roses given to me on Valentine’s Day, irises given to me for my birthday, Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies. In it are bouquets of flowers that graced my piano concert. Vegetable trimmings are souvenirs from home-cooked meals shared with friends. Peelings from bushels of apples, cucumbers and tomatoes testify to the work needed to create pickles and sauces for the long winter ahead.

Yet there is sadness and regret, too. The pile contains flowers from relationships also dead and gone. In it are petals which bloomed “more brilliantly than Solomon in all his glory,” but were noticed only after faded from beauty. Brown, withered leaves abound from fleeting crimson autumn glory. Produce that was shoved to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten until spoiled remind me to be more mindful of the amount I select to consume. The most painful reminder of death, however, were the flowers that once graced my mother’s casket, and like we will one day, have returned to dust.

Yet numerous plants have sprouted from seeds laid to rest, often serendipitously. I discovered muskmelons in a flower bed one year. I once noticed several unidentified squash plants and was delighted when several varieties of winter squash appeared as well as giant pumpkins. For several seasons, plum tomato vines grew directly out of the bin and supplied all of my tomatoes for dehydrating.

In the Gospel of John, Christ says that one must die in order to gain new life. But death is not absolute. A seed dies and its outer coat decays to reveal new life within. In order for that life to sprout and blossom, it must be nourished by the compost that once also began as seeds and now is recycled back to the earth. Joy and sadness mingle together to create life anew.

What is in my compost pile? Resurrection.

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