we plough the fields and scatter

I have to admit to getting a bit annoyed when churches think that having a Harvest Thanksgiving Service is something from a bygone era that has no relevance to people today. (Not that I’ve heard of any church doing this, it’s maybe just in my imagination).

It especially irritates me when urban churches think like that because it seems to show a lack of awareness, thankfulness  or insight of where the food they had today in the town or city came from.
It doesn’t matter if you live in a bustling town without a cow in sight.  Somewhere on planet earth your food was planted. More than that, your future meal is either growing or being stored in a tiny seed for future growth for us to eat..
We are all dependent on the marvels of the soil and humus which if you are of a Christian persuasion God created just as much as he created you or me. Which has implications.

We usually sing the old harvest favourite

‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand’

Yet that isn’t quite true. I can see this from growing the few things that I got the time to plant this summer.

The soil here was tired, rocky and dry from bushes and shrubs that had grown the last 20yrs. So I had to take the bushes out, make a small bed and throw in some well rotted compost to try and improve the soil so that the lettuce and leeks would grow more healthily. In fact, one of the neighbourhood cats did his business beside a few leeks and they are noticeably larger than the other leeks.
Humans have to be custodians of the soil and sometimes add fertilizers, manure and other things if they want to keep on harvesting food from the land year after year. In one sense the soil is fed by humans as well. That is why gardeners keep compost heaps or try to get their hands on some well rotted manure.

Or during the heat wave the ground got scorched  dry and my lettuce started to bolt so I had to water the soil by going to the tap with my watering can and adding lots of water. Humans might have to irrigate and water their crop and plants, especially in areas of low rainfall.

So what I think about those lines in the hymn is that   they underplay the role that humans (all humans?) have in looking after creation in that we have a bigger role in the harvesting of our food than those lines suggest. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t all ultimately come from God, just that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to look after it.

I wonder if those line also have filtered down to how we understand how the climate works? It seems to be the attitude with a lot of Christians that we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist about climate change because God is in charge of the weather patterns and sends the weather, not us.
Which might be be a problem as we think that what we do can’t effect what is going to happen with the weather patterns so we might as well do what we want.

I find the whole thing about climate change and scientists puzzling.
Obviously years ago scientists discovered that smoking or passive smoking is bad for your health, so people and the Government took that on board and outlawed smoking in public places etc. Yet not many people seem to go around being skeptical about what the scientists say there but when it comes to climate change nobody seems to want to trust the scientists.
When it comes to climate change nobody wants to take it seriously. So it is going to happen and that means that our harvests are going to become more unpredictable. For example f there are heatwaves in places that used to be reliable places to grow wheat then there is going to be less bread. If there is more wet weather in areas that used to have reliable rainfall then harvesting crops is going to be more expensive. And all that is going to happen as the population of planet earth continues to grow.

So I think that we have extra reason to be thankful for every harvest we have as well as repenting of not treating the world around us of respect.
It’s like that old chestnut that I used to get about having wear a suit to church as ‘If you wouldn’t wear jeans to meet the Queen, how much more important is it to wear respectful clothes in meeting with God?’

If you wouldn’t trash Buckingham Palace or wreck a van Gogh painting in an art gallery why would we treat the world God created with so little respect?

toilet talk

night soil

Another opportunity for reflecting on waste and compost presented itself in the form of an unexpected blocked downstairs toilet.
After initial hopeful prods involving a hacked bucket handle I realised that this was going to be an outside job. So without going into too much gory detail it was time to get involved with that part of the home that is out of sight, out of mind – the outdoor pipes.
A bit of digging, toilet flushing and the problem has been rectified.
Funnily enough I had been reading about this sort of thing the other day in the The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency’ by John Seymour.

‘This fear of basic functions seems to be part of the modern human condition, which finds the idea of dealing with waste and death extremely challenging…The flush toilet is a remarkably expensive way to pollute fresh drinking water, while at the same time wasting the very nutrients that are essential to maintain fertility in the soil. One pull of the lever and the waste becomes somebody else’s problem. We just pay our taxes and allow our children to pick up the real inheritance of all this pollution’

The fear of basic functions does seem to be a part of the modern human condition, yet it is part of who we are. So in one way although I can think of lots of better ways to start a Thursday morning it is useful to see the hidden pipes of our house and be reminded of what is going on.
I imagine them joining into one big pipe joined to  pipes in the houses in Knockncarra and that pipe maybe going down to the water treatment plant at Mutton Island . The way the waste from our homes is dealt with effects the water quality in Galway Bay. Deal with it responsibly and the will be a Blue Flag for the beaches at Salthill or Silver Strand, deal with it irresponsibly and the Blue Flag will be taken away.



I love having a little heap of compost in a corner of the garden. This morning I went out and threw some vegetable peelings on, turned the heap inside out and breathed in sweet warm composting air. It brought me back to the 90’s when there was a F_____ family mushroom growing business   and bags of  prepared compost would arrive on a lorry in bags which I’d smell. That same smell 20 yrs later.
There was a moment this morning when I just looked at my compost heap and felt content with the world. That doesn’t happen that often so I wanted to note it down. What is it about the compost heap that made me feel so content?
Well it is a sign that death and decay isn’t necessarily the end. There is life in decay as well. The rotting vegetables will decay and in a few months I will put it back into the soil to help grow new vegetables.Tomorrow’s fresh green lettuce and leeks will be nurtured by today’s rotting vegetables and grass. There is the promise of resurrection and new life in death and decay. A moment of contentment.

redeeming the by-products

This is a sight familiar to us all, the daily bag of rubbish to be sorted and recycled.

During 2011 I walked back and forth between our green bin exactly 29,432 times which would have taken me 3/4’s of the way to the moon if I had walked in a straight line.

There is something deeply troubling about trying to live less greedily because basically it seems like there is no escape from waste.

There is no escape from the bain of my life, the 2L milk carton and 400ml tins of plum tomatoes. There is no escape from the paper that clogs up the bins.

John Seymour, author of ‘The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency’ (a magic book) said

‘The dustman need never visit the smallholder’

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams went even further with his statement that

‘God doesn’t do waste’

and William Morris penned these words.

‘I tell you that the very essence of competitive commerce is waste’

So perhaps waste is a sign of our sinfulness or the way that THE SYSTEM has got us trapped and bound up, that we’re slaves to THE WORLD.

Perhaps a trip to the bin might require us to be humble because it

a) reminds us that we’re not God and we’re trapped in an oppressive system that we can never hope to escape unless by some miracle
b) that we’re living on a planet of limited resources that is dying no matter what we try or how wisely we try to live.

But at the same time  (and in my determination not to the let the darkness eat me up) there is redemption of all things and ‘God doesn’t do waste.’

There is the possibility of redemption and recreation even in what we might throw in the dustbin or discard as waste.

G.K Chesterton writes something in ‘What’s Wrong With the World’ that I could read all day, something that makes me want to go out and redeem the rubbish

“The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin…..If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare. When science began to use by-products; when science found that colors could be made out of coaltar, she made her greatest and perhaps her only claim on the real respect of the human soul.
Now the aim of the good woman is to use the by-products, or, in other words, to rummage in the dustbin.”

Redeeming the by-products, rummage in the bin. Make rocket stoves out of tin cans, plant herbs in milk cartons, make compost.

opening a can of worms (literally)…

I’ve been thinking about worm composting for a while now and today decided to launch my first experimental worm bin. As always there are different schools of thoughts of what and what not to do but at the end you have to just take the plunge.

There are a number of reasons why worms are attractive. They compost quickly (apparently!)and it seems like a cleaner option for our particular house. If it was ours I’d happily put a compost bin or two out the back but with renting you’re not quite sure.

After purchasing the (expensive) worms in Dunmurry I carried them home in a little polystyrene coffee cup, shredded my paper and added some compost to the bin. I couldn’t find the lid of the Poundland boxes so placed an old back door mat over the plastic boxes and let the paper soak.

At 11pm I became concerned that the worms would run out of food or air overnight in their little plastic coffee cup so went out to check. Bending down to check something worm shaped made a move at the side of my head and checking by lamp light I saw my first ever climbing worm. The feisty expensive coffee cup worms had launched a worm bin prison break of sorts. There was one up the wall, another running towards the door, I found several hiding under pots and a few on the ground.

This made me realise that I had started a worm composter, I had brought my first ever pets – I’m not sure how we’re going to get on with this. Will my independent nature and desire to be free from shackles survive a demanding worm colony?

Checking with H_____, purchaser of the Poundland plastic box I located the lids, bulked up the compost levels and threw in a token banana skin and lettuce leaf. I reckon that if you’re capable of climbing up the pebble dash wall you don’t need to be mollycoddled.
Tough love worms, tough love.