Science Fair meets Lenten Practice

This week I performed Emma Darwin for a science fair at Marshall Middle School in Olympia. It was totally impressive! 8th graders designing experiments and reporting the results on three narrow display panels. Among the many delicious investigations,  a young man tested the old wives’ tale that coffee grounds were a good fertilizer. He compared coffee-compost with a commercial nitrogen fertilizer and control plants that received no extra help.

It turns out that coffee grounds accelerated growth as effectively as the store-bought fertilizer.  Those old wives know what they’re talking about.

In medieval times, I’m told, ashes were spread across fields to fertilize them. I wonder how soot would compare to Starbucks in a science fair show-down?

Every Ash Wednesday, I remember this bit of archaic wisdom, as my faith community stands waiting the imposition of ashes. The season of Lent invites me to prune away unneeded shoots of expectation, resentment, hyper-responsibility. Toss them aside to compost or be burned. There’s good health to be found in releasing the elemental components of that which no longer serves. Return them to the ground from which they came, to feed growth of stronger, fresher habits.

Every student I spoke with at the fair told me that it was “hard work” to design and follow through with their experiments.  Why is it so apparent after the fact that the hard work is worthwhile, but in the midst of the process, most of us  resist?

I’m right there in the trenches with the 8th graders, wondering if my Lenten experiment will ever come together into something that could be posted proudly for the whole school to see. I sigh at the mess of releasing my habits.  I pray that something grows magnificently in their smelly rot. Somehow, I have faith that there’s value in this process of releasing the old and awaiting what might grow, a permaculture cycle for the soul.

Hifalutin thoughts. But now I’m off to find the old wives and get the low down on tea grounds as fertilizer.


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