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What we can learn from a witch’s blessing on a compost pile

Starhawk’s book, Earth Path, offers the following blessing on a compost pile. (There really is something very magical and trusting about even thinking of offering a blessing on a compost pile):

    We offer gratitude to the great cycles of birth, growth, death, decay, and regeneration. We are grateful to al the beings how have made the great transformation, leaving the remains of their bodies here. We are grateful to all the hungry mouths that consume the dead. Blessings on the termite, the beetle, the ant, the spider, the worm. Blessings on the fungi and the bacteria, those that need the air and those that avoid it. Blessings on all the life in this pile that will transform decay to fertility, death to life. May I always remember that the cycle of life is a miracle. May I continue to feel a sense of wonder and joy in the presence of death and life. May I remember that waste is food, and may my eyes be open to opportunities to close the circle and create abundance and life.”

There is something deeply beautiful about that.

What assumptions go into such a blessing?

First, that God cares about such things as compost piles.

It shows an awareness of our dependency on the little things on earth—an acknowledgement that these diverse things matter to our health and wellbeing. The blessing requires some education of the workings of nature.

It shows a deep reverence for the ecological cycles that make life even possible.

It takes seriously that our spiritual lives can merge with nature and its care.

Is there room for such attitudes within our LDS traditions? I think so. I think we can show a more reverent attitude toward the sacred nature of creation. Could we carelessly use and abuse our wonderful lands and natural resources, if we sensed within them a deep and important sacredness? If we truly asked blessings or gave thanks for the cycles and processes of nature could we easily exploit or abuse nature as we have so quickly and carelessly done up till now? Could we glibly argue that certain of our companion species are less important than a new mall or housing development? Such attitudes as we find in this blessing on a compost pile would go far in sensing how important and how fragile our life support systems are and how important their care will be.

There is something absurd in blessing a compost pile—maybe as absurd as making a sacred covenant with the creatures of the earth. In Genesis 9, after Noah disembarks from the ark, we read the following:

    8: And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying:
    9: And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
    10: And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.

The Lord then establishes his covenant that he will never destroy the earth with water again and sets a rainbow to mark this covenant. Then the Lord adds:

    15: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. (italics mine).

Why should I take serious the idea that the Lord made a covenant with Noah AND with the creatures of the earth? I don’t take literally the idea that there was a world-wide flood and an ark loaded with a sampling of at least one of each sex of every species. Why take literally that God made a covenant with the beasts of the earth? As I read the story of the flood, don’t think that I’m suppose to take lessons about physical geology or the source of biodiversity from the story, but something deep about the Lord’s concern for what are often called the lesser things of earth. Embedded deeply in our theology there is the claim of human supremacy and the Lord’s ultimate concern for us, his children. But notice in this story the Lord, makes his covenant with Noah, his children, “for perpetual generations,” as verse 12 of Genesis 9 tells us, AND every living creature. Us AND them. This suggests to me that while, we may be our Heavenly Father’s ultimate concern, we are not His only concern. That these creatures do matter to him—after all he commanded Noah to make sure they made it on the ark. So for me, the thing to take a literalist reading on is not the story elements borrowed from Near Eastern flood narratives, but the heart of the story is one that shows a relationship of care between Creator and all Creation. That’s the raison d’etre of the story being told here. The ark and the great deluge are metaphorical, but the Lord’s care is genuine, deep, and important. His creation and its creatures matter.

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9 comments to What we can learn from a witch’s blessing on a compost pile

  • Howard

    Excellent thought provoking post.

    God not only cares about such things as compost pile he make everything in the compost pile and the process of composting as a part of the circle of life.

  • Alex

    I agree 100%. But are you going to give credit to Duane Jeffrey for this idea?

  • SteveP

    I certainly will, If you tell me why. Did he say this too? I didn’t know he read also read Starbuck, but he’s the smartest guy I know and learned my love of evolution from him so if he said it first, he gets the credit! But I came on this independently and first used the quote in a Mormonism and Environment conference at UVU (UVSC then) in April 2007 and again at Sunstone in August 2007. But then Duane has been a huge influence in my life as both teacher and colleague and maybe the very idea of looking for such a blessing came from him. If someone asked me to name my heroes Duane Jeffrey and Clayton White at BYU would top the list. Well, maybe after my Dad.

  • Alexander

    I apologize – I was confusing Duane’s paper “Noah’s flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions” (http://www.sunstoneonline.com/magazine/issues/134/134-27-45.pdf) with Clayton White and Mark Thomas “On Balancing Faith in Mormonism with Traditional Biblical Stories: The Noachian Flood Story”
    (http://www.dialoguejournal.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/4003-White.pdf). But they both develop the same theme, and I’m sure you are familiar with both. The part that had stuck in my mind was this:

    “At the end of the Noah story, God made a covenant with humanity,
    which included human accountability for nature (Gen. 9:1–8). God then
    covenanted to never totally destroy life again, not only with humans but
    also with “all that live on earth.” This is a covenant between God and all
    living creatures, with humans acting as God’s stewards. Living creatures
    are a “Thou” and are therefore intimately associated with an ethic of respect for all life. This is a story addressing immediate ethical concerns in our age. It speaks of the destruction of life and the preservation of species. Many LDS leaders have understood this story as primarily ethical. Yet in the workaday world, nature is often treated as an object, a scarce economic commodity to be discarded if the whims of the market dictate. This view of nature is foreign to the human stewardship of life articulated in the Noah story.”

    Duane is one of my favorite people too, and I wish I knew him better.

  • SteveP

    Thanks Alexander, two great papers! Thanks for the links.

  • SteveP

    NOTE: I am going to Utah for a week, so for the next 24 hours I will be traveling and won’t likely be able to approve comments. Please post them still! but they won’t appear until Sat. Morning Utah time. THANKS FOR STILL COMMENTING!!
    Blessings all.

  • Fabulous post – one of my favorites. With a quote that great, I’ll definitely have to check out that book.

  • [...] takes the Mormon directive, to find the good in all religions, very seriously as he discusses profound insights gleaned from Wicken author Starhawk, backed up by taking a fresh look at a very old and familiar biblical [...]

  • I really think that our dismissive view of nature is perhaps the greatest sin of the human species today, and one for which we will pay most dearly. Thanks for this post reminding us of what we so often forget.

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