Composting is a very biblical activity. Adam, according to the second creation account in Genesis, was formed from the divinely created dirt. Some scholars try to capture the word-play in that story by suggesting “human” was made from “humus,” but since that sounds like chickpea dip it may not help so much after all. Besides, we now know that soil has a complex and fascinating history. Erosion grinds up rocks. Organic matter dies and decays, forming the loosely packed substrate in which plants can survive, slowly breaking up the more dense pieces through the transformative power of water. It is, imprecisely speaking, a miracle. When Adam drops dead, he becomes once more part of the soil from which he was formed. It’s poetic. Elegant. Economical.
Now that we have a house we’ve decided to try our hand at composting. We’d considered it many times over the years since, what with recycling and hoarding, we’d managed to get our weekly garbage down to one fairly small bag. Besides, since our government won’t be nice to the planet, somebody has to. Institutional people that we are, my wife and I had to read up on composting before giving this very natural decomposition a try. Things have to be just so for the process to work perfectly. It was in the process of this reading that the biblical aspect became clear to me.
The trick is to make sure the neighbors don’t complain about the smell. That, in part, determines what can or can’t go into the compost bin. Meat and dairy can’t go into the mix. Since I’m primarily vegan such things aren’t generally here to be disposed of in any case. Even the drier lint can go there, for the clothes that we wear become part of who we are, right Henry David? And here’s where there’s a danger of TMI, although it’s good theology—cast-offs from our selves can also be composted. Hair, for example. The composting literature we have seems to take Adam himself out of the equation by specifying pet hair, but hey, mammals are mammals. The longer I thought about this, the more obvious it was that burial, ideally, is a form of composting. Giving back to the earth from which we’ve sprung. That simple wire bin out by the garage is in the process of making the substrate for new life. We may not be farmers, or gardeners like Adam, but composting feels like giving back somehow. It’s an act of creation.