One day in May, when the apple trees are hinting at pink blossoms, I take my spade and head for the backyard. The smell of fresh green is all around me. The world is waking up after its long winter nap, and every living thing seems to be stretching toward the sun.
It will soon be time to plant the vegetable garden. I had a good little crop last year. Carrots, onions, beans, peas, tomatoes, leafy greens. Enough to fill our plates in the late summer, and put some away for colder days. I never cease to wonder at the magic of it all – the few tiny seeds I push into the soil turn into baskets of food for our table.
I’m no green thumb, by any stretch. But I have learned a few things along the way. And that’s why I’ve got the spade out this fine day. Just past the garden, I stand in front of a heap of earth about waist high. The top of it is rather lumpy, spread with dry leaves from last fall. Brown grass and twigs stick out like a bad hair day. Yet there is more here than meets the eye.
I dig in, scraping back the light brown top layer. I shove the blade farther down, shifting the pile to one side and then the other. There in the middle, I find what I’m looking for. My own black gold. Gloves off, I reach into the pile. This is moist, dark earth, and it crumbles loosely in my hands. An earthworm crawls over my thumb. When I lean forward and inhale, it smells like the forest floor. Rich, spicy, full of life. This is good soil.
Another magic has been at work here. Not many months before, this heap was a stinking jumble of rotten tomatoes, egg shells, tea bags, and pulled weeds. It was a rubbish pile of things we no longer needed or wanted. It was the place leftovers went to die. And now, by a process of decomposition, with just the right ratio of carbon to nitrogen, it has transformed into a gardener’s dream.
Good soil. The phrase brings me back to a parable I’ve been meditating on, that famous story Jesus told of a sower who went out to sow. I’ve heard it my whole life. It’s a picture of the human response to the gospel, and to Jesus himself.
But it’s got me thinking. What exactly makes good soil? What makes my garden grow? It’s not just that I till the earth, or remove the rocks, or yank out the weeds. Good soil is nutrient rich because of the organic matter in it that has decomposed. The basis of good soil is death.
I consider the things that have died in my own life. Sometimes death came from the outside – a circumstance beyond my control, a hope disappointed, a prayer seemingly unanswered. I have stood with loved ones and wept together over loss beyond our understanding.
Sometimes death came at my own hands – through my own inability to nourish life or love through difficulty. I have too often been ignorant or careless, and have witnessed a devastation too late to reverse.
And then there were the times God called me to put something to death, and I fought Him. I kept grasping on to that thing, struggling to keep hold of it, even though it was rotting in my hands.
I look at the compost pile, and see a bit of myself in it. It’s not all a pretty picture, not yet. But I see the Gardener at work, taking my decay and making something beautiful of it. Something that will bring life. It’s just His way.
We all experience death. But the only way to keep it from suffocating us in its stench is to bring it to God’s own compost pile. All the things we cannot not keep alive, all the things we no longer need or want, all the things that keep us from producing the abundant fruit we were meant to bear – we surrender them to Jesus’ process of death and resurrection. With time, and trust, and even our tears, He transforms what has died into fertile ground for His own planting.
I get the wheelbarrow and begin shovelling out the finished compost to spread on the garden. A robin sings on a branch above me. And I feel like singing too, because I’m learning the secret to good soil.
~ Lindsey Gallant
This article first appeared in Good Tidings magazine.