April 22, 2021
This is holy ground; I’m standing on holy ground; for the Lord is present, and where God is, is holy…
I sing the praise and worship song from the eighties over and over under my breath as I stop to pick up yet another piece of trash. This time it is some undistinguishable piece of plastic which I add to the collection of cigarette packets, water bottles, fast food wrappers and drink cups, candy wrappers, miniature liquor bottles, beer cans and other assorted litter that tells a depressing story about modern suburban life. How some of it came to be scattered about the land on the corner of Lone Tree Way and O’Hara Avenue I couldn’t say. The lighter stuff probably blew here from someone’s unsecured trash can. The rest dropped by passersby, discarded by someone taking a lunch break, or tossed from a passing car. Last time I came out and did this I only made it about a quarter of the way around before my full trash bag sent me back to my car. This time I am smarter; I’m moving my car around the edge of the land so I don’t have to walk as far with a full load, and when I fill a bag I put it in the trunk and get a new one.
It is early evening; the sun is low in the sky and commute traffic is building up on the surrounding streets. I briefly wonder what their drivers think of this oldish woman in her sunhat and flowery blouse picking up trash on an empty plot of land that has been neglected for years. It is Earth Day, and this is my contribution to worldwide efforts to care for our planet. Last week the land was disked for city mandated weed abatement, and to clear it for the eco-confirmation that will be celebrated here this weekend. Jubilee Farm is committed to practices such as permaculture and sustainable agriculture and no-till farming, but disking is a necessary evil, and so I tell myself it is shallower and less invasive than ploughing and there is evidence that it has benefits for plant life and can actually improve the soil.
I miss the lush green spring growth but it had grown too tall and thick for people to walk on it safely and as there has been no rain for weeks and a recent heatwave the vegetation had begun drying out. The disking exposed the trash once again and so I am out here, bending and picking up and placing in a trash bag the detritus of human life. And cursing my fellow humans as I do. Why… why do people feel the need to dispose of their trash so irresponsibly? Who thinks it is okay to just toss it on the ground? Whatever happened to packing it in and packing it out?
The wind is blowing strongly today and hampers my efforts by tossing the plastic bag into which I am placing the trash around, making difficult to hold on to and meaning that sometimes I miss and have to pick up a piece of trash a second time. I am hot, tired, sweaty, and increasingly bad tempered, and my back hurts from all the bending. I want to quit and go home but I am determined to finish and so I hum the song to remind myself why I am doing this. This is holy ground… this land belongs to God and will be used for God’s purposes and so taking care of it is important. Just a couple of weeks ago this land was overgrown with grass and wild mustard that sheltered animals and insects and hummed with life, and I miss the wild beauty of that, but the smooth, bare, brown surface appeases my OCD perfection sensibilities and feeds my determination to get every last piece of trash that mars the surface of the earth, even though I know that when I come back next week there will be more, because human nature is what it is.
And that’s the thing isn’t it? This is holy ground, which is why I am out here; this land is sanctified, set aside for God’s purpose; to house and shelter and connect and feed God’s children, and renew and restore the earth God gave us. And the world has always opposed Gods’ purpose, from the time when Adam and Eve ate the apple off the tree God had told them not to eat from to the time the nation of Israel grumbled against God who had led them from slavery in Egypt to freedom, complaining they would rather have stayed in Egypt where they had real food to eat rather than die in the wilderness; from the time the world hung and innocent man on the cross to die because they would not accept God’s message of love and mercy; through to today… when people toss their trach on the ground because they are too busy, too distracted, too self-absorbed to consider what they are doing.
This world will always oppose God’s Kingdom, because God’s Kingdom opposes the things of this world; because humankind’s desires for the things this world offers are stronger than our desire for God?
But to know God is to claim a different authority for our lives than the accepted and expected ways of the world; to put love before need; mercy before judgment; sacrifice before gain; compassion before indifference. And so I am out here, picking up trash, forcing myself to ignore my baser human instincts which tempt me to give up and go home, humming the song to myself
to remind me why I do this - not to change the world but to make sure the world does not change me.