We all look forward to dump day around here. I cancelled our garbage service a couple of months ago, the trash company tripled our rates and stopped recycling glass. At the county dump, the recycling is free; they take glass. I’ve become intimate with our garbage, so have the kids. At least once a day, someone hauls the day’s recycling out into the garage and sorts it into bins: paper, plastic, glass, tin, aluminum. Every two weeks, I collapse the two back seats of my minivan and load everything in. The bins are overflowing with bits of spent life, there are the remains of school projects and amazon boxes that need to be collapsed into submission. Sometimes, it’s so packed that I can barely see out my rear-view mirror. I pull out slowly, so as not to jostle everything. Even if I ease out on to the main road, the glass bottles clink menacingly. Our county dump is broken up into recycling stations about 100 yards apart and managed by nice men on parole who ask me “Do you need any help, sweetheart?” in a protective, brotherly sort of way. “No thanks,” I say, “I got this all sorted.” Once I dump everything out. The bins are empty and nested like Russian dolls, the back of my van is spacious again. I pull away feeling relieved and proud. I handled this, I sorted it out, I let these things go to have a second life. It’s the good kind of empty. The kind that says there’s room to grow.
I approach my prayer life like dump days. Daily, I inventory, rinse, then sort whatever belief isn’t serving me any longer. Once a week, usually on my Sabbath, I dump it all into the appropriate recycling stations. Some stuff just goes straight to the landfill—there’s no resurrection, recycle, upcycle, reuse, no hope of rehabilitation or future usefulness for it. Stuff like greed, selfishness, fear, despair, that stuff needs to be buried or incinerated. Preferably incinerated. But for other stuff, like that self-preservation that got me through a hard season; that friendship that provided me with strength but has now evolved or devolved and I need to let go, though I’m clinging to it; desperation for a change that drove me to make a big, healthy shift, but now is a slave master; boundaries that once kept me safe but now are a hinderance to me—these are the things that I sort and recycle. These I dump back to God at the designated pile and say “ok, these did their work, but now they need to be remade.”
In Richard Foster’s classic, Celebration of Discipline, he talks about a form of meditation the medieval contemplatives called “re-collection” and the Quakers call “centering down.” It is a way to center fragmented attention and become still before the Lord. He offers a simple exercise called “palms-up/palms-down.” In this form of meditation, with your palms down, you acknowledge and then release what sin or half-truth or concern you have to God. Anything that is weighing on your mind. Then, you flip your palms up to receive what God wants to replace it with or remake it as. This silent, symbolic surrender is the essence of Dump Day. I re-collect the lessons God is teaching me.
We got Finn a rock tumbler for Christmas. For 6 weeks, there was a dull whirring noise emanating from the garage. Every 7 to 10 days, he dutifully rinsed the rocks, changed out the grit and put the rocks in for another tumble over and over again until they were shiny and smooth, real treasure. This is how spiritual development works, you get closer and closer to the real, true thing on the inside with each refining iteration. It takes dedication and faith. It’s the dump day cycle on repeat: filtering those beliefs and core values until they mirror ones God really wants us to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control etc. etc.
Each time I get back from the dump, I back into the garage, rinse out the recycling containers, vacuum out the van, before I’m all set and ready for the next go-around. Without fail, before I make it into the house, one of the recycling bins is already has a bit of refuse in it, waiting for the next Dump Day. For the next Sabbath. As Lewis writes in Mere Christianity: “a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble--because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”
I don’t know why God has made repetition and failure so central to our development. Cycles of death and resurrection are everywhere: the seasons, bread rising, wine-making, butterflies, my own cluttered heart. I don’t like it. But this is how he made it to work I’m learning to embrace the mess.
On Dump Days, I follow Wendell Berry’s injunction to “practice resurrection.”
It’s the best kind of dirty work.