(*Philosophy and Speculation)
"From the Latin word humus for earth, true humility grounds
the seeker in truth."
Edward Hayes - Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim
(Special thanks to Sister Barbara of Villa Maria, PA)
Composting humanure is an act of humility, and the practice of humility is an exercise that strengthens one's spirit. The Earth provides us with life; it gives us our children, allows us to pursue our dreams. All of the beauty and joy that makes up our lives ultimately springs from her breasts to nurture and strengthen us. We suckle from her - and then we give back feces and urine - usually in the form of surface and water pollutants.
Shortly after the first edition of this book was published, I was invited to speak to a group of nuns at a convent. It was my first speaking invitation, and I still remember the phone call:
"Mr. Jenkins, we recently bought a copy of your book, Humanure, and we would like to have you speak at our convent."
At this time, I was still doubtful that anyone was even interested in the topic of humanure composting, so I responded, "What about?"
"About the topic of your book."
"Yes, but specifically, humanure composting." At this point I was somewhat speechless. I couldn't understand exactly why a group of nuns would be interested in composting their own shit. Somehow I couldn't imagine standing in front of a room full of nuns in habits, speaking about turds. But I kept the stammering to a minimum and accepted the invitation.
It was Earth Day, 1995. The presentation went well. After I spoke, the group showed slides of their gardens and compost piles, and then we toured the compost area and poked around in the worm compost boxes. A delightful lunch followed, during which time I asked them why they were interested in humanure, of all things.
"We are the Sisters of Humility," they responded. "The words ‘humble' and ‘humus' come from the same semantic root, which means ‘earth.' We also think these words are related to the word ‘human.' Therefore, as part of our vow of humility, we work with the earth. We make compost, as you've seen. And now we want to learn how to make compost from our toilet material. We're thinking about buying a commercial composting toilet, but we want to learn more about the overall concepts first. That's why we asked you to come here."
A light bulb went off in my head. Of course, composting is an act of humility. The people who care enough about the earth to recycle their personal by-products do so as an exercise in humility, and not because they're going to get rich and famous for it. That makes them better people. Some people go to church on Sunday, others make compost. Still others do both. Others go to church on Sunday, then throw all their garbage out into the environment. The exercising of the human spirit can take many forms, and the simple act of cleaning up after oneself is one of them. Carelessly dumping waste out into the world is a self-centered act of arrogance.
Humanure composters can stand under the stars at night gazing at the heavens, and know that, when nature calls, their excretions will not foul the planet. Instead, those excretions are humbly collected, fed to microorganisms, and returned to the Earth as healing medicine for the soil. Although today's religious leaders may scoff at anyone who does not kowtow to the men at the top of their hierarchy, humble composters can ignore the pressures of religious conformity, and instead hold a grain of pure spiritual truth in the palm of their hand.
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing,
PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.