A few weeks ago, Alfie one of the members from Banbridge, gave me a page from his daily devotions that referred to the landfill orchestra of Paraguay. The orchestra consists of young people from the town of Cateura who play orchestral instruments made from landfill waste. They play Violins that are made from discarded baking trays, cello’s from oil barrel’s, a guitar from biscuit tins, trumpets and saxophones from discarded drain-pipes and a drum made from a discarded ex-ray plate.
The little town called Cateura was one that grew up around a landfill site where many it’s residents make a living scrounging around the discarded waste. And in this poverty stricken place, the lives of some of its children and teenagers have been transformed by learning to play music on these instruments.
It has always intrigued me reading John’s version of the feeding of the 5000. After Jesus has worked a miracle and fed 5000 people with five barley loaves and two small fish, he instructs his disciples to “Gather the pieces that are left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” (John 6:12).
Why bother! One might ask? If you have the ability to produce food seemingly out of thin air why not let the left-over go to waste.
But Jesus says to his disciples: “Gather the pieces that are left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
Was there a lesson in this that Jesus was wanting his disciples to learn? Or was it just the way of Jesus that food and resources were not to be wasted, part of the fibre of Jesus being? Let nothing be wasted.
It reminds me of a Zen story called: A Drop of Water
A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath. The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over. 'You dunce!' the master scolded him. 'Why didn't you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even a drop of water in this temple?' The young student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.
Like some of the parables of Jesus, the story uses exaggeration and hyperbole. But the point of the story is that spiritual attainment, spiritual maturity necessarily expresses itself in a deep sense care and respect for every aspect of life and is unable to treat anything in life with carelessness and thoughtlessness. In spiritual maturity we come to see that everything in life is a gift, and so everything deserves our care.
In the 6th Chapter of Gary Ferguson’s 8 Master Lessons from nature: what nature teaches us about living well in the world, he writes that “We live on a Planet with Energy Beyond Measure, Yet life doesn’t waste a drop”.
In exploring this theme, Gary Ferguson examines the design of both sloth’s, hummingbirds and bees, and shows how energy efficient each of them are.
For examples, with sloth’s, hanging upside down significantly reduces energy consumption compared to what it would take if you were spending you whole day trying to balance on top or in between tree branches. The small shoulder blades and long arms of a sloth also allows hanging around in one place for extended periods while remaining within easy reach of food.
In terms of hummingbirds, Ferguson writes that for one thing they have shaved their weight to the absolute minimum. To lighten the loads they carry around from flower to flower, they have done away with the usual downy feathers that most birds have to keep them warm. Instead, at night they are able to lower their body temperatures by right down, dropping their heart rates from 500 beats a minute when flying down to around 50. At these times of rest, their breathing comes nearly to a standstill.
Lastly in terms of bees, Gary Ferguson writes that they've mastered the most efficient storage scheme known to human beings as proved by the University of Michigan mathematician Thomas Hales in a 250 page proof. The hexagonal shape of a bee hive he concludes uses the smallest amount of surface area for the maximum amount of storage.
But even without these examples, even with a basic knowledge of the cycles of nature it is evident how nature wastes nothing. A leaf that falls from a tree gets completely recycled becoming part of the soil ready to nourish again the tree from which it has fallen. Water than falls from the clouds watering plants and nourishing animals inevitably ends up in the rivers and oceans again, only to be absorbed back in the atmosphere through evaporation, ready to start the whole cycle all over again.
Nature not only has a supper-abundance of energy through sunlight and moving water, but it is also super efficient in how it uses that energy to sustain the working of the whole.
Human beings have not done so well on the efficiency front. We have only come to the part late in the game. But it is not just our physical waste that we have not been good at using efficiently through recycling, emotionally too, Gary Ferguson writes that we expend enormous amounts of energy on worrying and anxiety. I have to admit that this is true for me.
He writes: “Over the course of a lifetime, and often beginning early in childhood, we create anxieties that burn lots of energy without getting us any closer to what we are seeking. Too often we block ourselves from being able to rest in our deepest natures. We worry. Am I thin enough? Good-looking enough? Do people think I’m successful? Will people approve of whom I love? Everybody feels such concerns, but by lingering too long in our ruminations, by giving it too much energy, we rob ourselves of our own agency, denying ourselves, our friends, our family and the world at large of the real gifts we have to share and contribute.
Jesus gets to the heart of this waste of energy in the sermon on the mount: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” In fact modern science will tell us that the opposite is true… our worrying, stress and anxiety can often shorten our lives.
But even here, Gary Ferguson tells us that nature can help us. Research shows that time spent in nature, through what psychologists call “soft fascination” is able to easy the mental fatigue we experience when worrying. It is also able to get our brains out of the cycles of endless mental rumination or endless cyclical thinking and thus able to provide us with what amounts to a mental and emotional reboot.
Is it any wonder that in the Gospel’s Jesus seems to spend an enormous amount of time in nature. Do we need to hear Jesus’ invitation to his disciples as a personal invitation to each one of us: “Come with Me privately to a solitary place, and let us rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31).
The Greek word for solitary place is erémos (er'-ay-mos). It’s proper meaning refers to an uncultivated and an unpopulated place. Another way of putting it might have been: Come away with me, to spend time in God’s creation where we can be mentally and emotionally recharged and rebooted.”
Apparently you don’t even have to be in nature very long… only 5-10 minutes can have a significant effect on our well-being.
“Come away with me to a solitary place, and let us rest for a while.”
And as we rest every more deeply in God’s love and care for us, the more we will come to realise that there is nothing in our lives too that God will let go to waste.