What is my place in the ecosystem? And Other Thoughts From the Composting Toilet

Do people have a place in the ecosystem? And other thoughts on composting toilets. Liturgy of Life. liturgyoflife.com


Walking out of the bathroom having just used a composting toilet for the first time I was hit with a question (and no it had nothing to do with stinky poo, in fact the composting toilet was an all around great experience).  It was a question that had been lurking for years in the back of my mind but had never surfaced. The question was a simple one,


“What is my place in the ecosystem?


Now I know I have an effect on the ecosystem, but what I began to wonder is do I fit into it? Is there a way I can live within the ecosystem of the earth, in harmony and balance?


On one hand it’s just a question, I’m not trying to get at some deep theological concept here, but then again I guess I sort of am.


You see I’ve always been awed by the natural world. I was an avid Girl Scout, my mom a science teacher, both my siblings studied forestry at the university level, last year my husband and I worked for a non-profit focused on caring for the environment, living in and caring for  creation resonates deeply with my history and my soul.  Even as a kid the destruction of the natural world concerned me. I remember in 4th grade, creating a display of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I made little clay animals and then dousing them with motor oil, brought it to school nearly in tears.


Yet all this time I saw man as separate from the natural world. The best we could do, it seemed, was to destroy the earth slowly, protecting and conserving as we could.  That we would destroy it though was a given.


My assumptions were consistent with what I saw around me.  Our economy is based on digging up the earth, using it to make a lot of stuff, most of it unnecessary, selling it as cheaply as possible, and then most of this stuff ends up in a landfill within a year or so in a form quite distant from its original state.  This is the work of our nation, without those factories and stores, people would not have jobs. Destroying forests, creating pollutants, declining species, these were all necessary evils. It seemed impossible for society to survive without diminishing the earth’s fertility, productivity, abundance and beauty for the next generation.


As a nation, we have never made an effort to align ourselves with the thoughts of Sir Albert Howard, a well known agriculturalist, who said, “the whole problem of health in soil, planet, animal and man (is) one great subject.”  Rather what man wants has been seen as its own problem.  We look to the earth to satisfy our desires.   Caring for the earth and the aftermath of our exploitation of it is a secondary issue.  Proper stewardship or finding a place in the ecosystem where both man and all other species thrive has never been our goal.


Using the composting toilet turned on a light bulb for me.  Though in many ways we are not living within healthy ecological boundaries, it doesn’t mean that these boundaries don’t exist. In fact it doesn’t mean that these boundaries aren’t God given and in our best interest.  From Wendell Berry,


” . . . it may be that our marriages, kinships, friendships, neighborhoods, and all our forms and acts of homemaking are the rites by which we solemnize and enact our union with the universe.  These ways are practical, proper, available to everybody, and they can provide for the safekeeping of the small acreages of the universe that have been entrusted to us.”


I wonder what life would look like if we each took seriously our responsibility to our place?  It may be that there are simple answers to the complex issues of our age if we ask the right questions and are willing to change our lives in order to find out.


Perhaps an ecologically sound lifestyle is not impossible?  Nomadic peoples and small rural communities have been growing and gathering food in a way that enriches the soil, using materials that are natural, that come from the earth and go back to it just like our bodies when we are born and die, without destruction for centuries.  And as a Christian my responsibility  to tend and cultivate the earth is described as part of the creation story.  If the whole earth was created, and if we, like every other creature have a role to play, then it ought to be possible to live  without destroying the very place that gives us life.


What if we took all that we have learned in the 21st century and instead of seeking the next biggest and strongest and fastest we put our energy into living well and finding our place?  As we shifted our focus perhaps we would work as Berry suggests to,


” summon the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”


Who knew you could get to that after spending a few minutes on a composting toilet?


I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Thanks for being here,




This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.




One Comment

  • Tamara @ This Sacramental Life Reply

    This difference you’re describing between just trying to slow down how we wreck the earth vs. actually being a positive contribution TO the earth itself is dawning gradually on me as I read this book, too. In my past, I would have been nervous about phrases like what you quote of Berry above — “the rites by which we solemnize and enact our union with the universe” — because I would have misunderstood that as a sort of pantheism or universalism. That would have been a shallow understanding, and I’m really glad for the way Berry helps me think more fully and deeply and truthfully about my place within this ecosystem.
    Thank you, too, Erica!

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