Last week I saw the movie The Martian. Matt Damon plays an astronaut who is stranded on the planet Mars. He decides, despite his situation, that he is not going to give up. If he is going to do this, he knows that he is going to need to grow food to eat. Luckily, he is a botanist, the best one on the planet! He decides to use the potatoes from his food supply to start a new crop of potatoes. But how do you get things to grow with Martian soil? The only thing he can use as fertilizer is the bags of human excrement that have collected since the group of astronauts began their mission on Mars. And, poof! He grows a new crop of potatoes to eat.
Of course, this movie is science fiction and I don’t know if human excrement can really make potatoes grow on Mars. But I do have some experience with our Water Treatment Plant and I know that our sewage can make weeds grow in our sand filter. Even in the midst of late fall and winter when most weeds have the decency to go dormant until spring, we have weeds that stand defiantly, even in the case of repeated doses of the most caustic weed killer we can find, and shout out “We will not be moved.” Apparently human excrement and sewage have powerful abilities to nurture growth!
The great spiritual teachers tell us that everything in life can teach us—perhaps even such things as human excrement. I read this week that “mercy is the willingness to enter into chaos of another. Perhaps the most challenging thing is to enter into the chaos of our own lives. Sometimes, I think we believe that we are to be perfect and sin is a reminder that we are not perfect. And then we must try hard to get rid of all that is imperfect. I head a minister say at a funeral recently that we put the white funeral pall on the casket as a reminder that at baptism we are told that we are pure and that we are to spend our whole life trying to keep any stain of sin off of us. That’s a pretty impossible task. Almost like dressing a little kid in a brand new set of clothes and then telling him not to get the clothes dirty. How can you go through life without getting a little dirty? In fact, the wisdom of our spiritual fathers and mothers is that the messiness in our lives is the source of great spiritual growth. The place we might last look at, because we believe it to be dirty or messy and to be avoided at all costs, seems to be the place that God dwells most. Perhaps we may even dare to say that the excrement of our human journey is that place where we grow the most spiritually. What a deal!
But it takes a lot of courage to look at the messiness and the chaos of our lives and see it for what it is. It takes courage to ask ourselves how we are using the energy of our life. One of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous challenges people to do a moral inventory of the things that have done that have caused harm to themselves and to others. This is a challenge perhaps best done with the help of others.
This coming week I invite you to join us in prayer at our Advent Penance Services (Wednesday evening at 7 pm and Friday morning at 11 am). It’s a chance for us to do a moral inventory of our lives. To look at the messiness of our lives, the parts that we want to ignore and hope no one else notices, and ask ourselves “what are you teaching me about myself.” We hear again the words of Jesus “come to me all you who find life burdensome and I will refresh you.” And we remind each other that God has the power to make something incredibly good out of what we might want to throw away. That’s the good news of God mercy! Come join us in celebrating this good news in our lives.