Coming to Terms … and Compost

Epiphany 6 (year A)
(not totally related, but tangential to Gospel this week, playing on a Thich Nhat Hahn quote on anger.)

A few years ago my best friend from grade school absolved me of all the hateful things I’d said or done to her over the years of our friendship as children. We’d recently found each other after forty-five years and on a long car trip, I confessed all the guilt I’d carried around with me since then. Point by point she replied with an alternate version, a memory lapse, or a comment; “Sisters always say stuff like that to each other!” and, “From a childhood development point of view, I think what happened was…”.  Because of this experience I can imagine pure redemption. I’m forgiven and loved, just as I was, just as I am.

My mistakes are part of me, not only because I still cringe over the ways I’ve hurt people, but because I tend to learn from my guilt. (I say I tend to learn, because I try and don’t always succeed.) So I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s metaphor of the compost bin when he writes about anger.


Cabbage, Portrait with hands, photo by Bill

It only takes a couple of weeks for a flower to decompose. When a good organic gardener looks into her compost, she can see that, and she does not feel sad or disgusted. Instead, she values the rotting material and does not discriminate against it. It takes only a few months for compost to give birth to flowers. We need the insight and non-dual vision of the organic gardener with regard to our anger. We need not be afraid of it or reject it. We know that anger can be a kind of compost, and that it is within its power to give birth to something beautiful. 

(Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step)

Can I really use my anger, my left-over negative energies, my faux pas, resentments, sins,  mistakes, bad judgments, mix them with the refuse of whatever kindnesses I’ve unwittingly managed to cultivate and let them rot together in the soul’s compost bin? And out of that mix, can I enrich the ground of my life’s work and relationships with wisdom?

Yes! As much as I’d love to erase my misdeeds from my own memory and everyone else’s, I’d prefer that energy to decompose, and, purified by internal heat, transform into something useful, and ultimately beautiful.

Thanks Jane.


2 Responses to “Coming to Terms … and Compost”

  1. claire Says:

    What a wonderful, wise way of looking at anger! How useful it suddenly becomes, turned into compost. Thank you. I learned a lot here today.

  2. Judy Says:

    All the bad things I’ve ever done are in the compost pile? HOORAY! Thank you for sharing this metaphor.

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