These words sung in haunting melody, with a hum of bass and tenor undertones, surrounded the children as they mixed handfuls of shredded paper prayer requests into a bowl of compost during the worship service on Sunday morning. In what has become an annual springtime ritual at Rainbow, the anonymous prayers collected and lifted up throughout the year, are returned to the earth through the compost pile which nurtures the playground, the community vegetable garden, the orchard, and the Remembrance Garden.
For me, the physical act gives weight to the metaphors – and I wonder what, or if, this ritual contributes to the understanding of prayer in these young minds?
We talked about composting in WorshipArts – they know a lot! They shared how composting turns the garbage scraps into “good soil”, how the paper could be added to the compost because “it used to be a plant (a tree!)”, and how the resulting soil is enriched so “new things can live”. So why add our paper prayers to the compost? “Maybe because they are secret?” one voice suggests. “So they can do good things?” another adds. As I stumble to explain that sometimes we need our imagination to help us understand ideas that aren’t always clear, Rosi offers that composting prayers is like a symbol.
And then we added our own prayers to the bowl. I shared my understanding that while people pray in all different kinds of ways, most of the time prayer starts by paying attention to what is in your heart (your feelings) or in your mind (your thoughts). The children were invited to choose a paper scrap that reflected a prayer they identified with in that moment – a blue scrap for a prayer requesting help; a pink scrap for a prayer offering thanks; and a purple scrap for a prayer of wonder. One by one, they tore their chosen papers into smaller pieces and added it to the mix, soon to be returned to the earth.
Silence my soul – the earth is prayer. I asked the earth, tell me about God… then it gave life. *
*words from Silence My Soul by Francisco Feliciano