A viral video caught my eye and my heart this month. It shows a slum community who lives next to a landfill in Paraguay where people came to recycle the trash and, amazingly, build instruments like the violin out of it. A large can and a few pieces of wood and metal, in the hands of someone with skill and vision, became a cello that makes beautiful music, and music filled with meaning. Then an orchestra came out of this project, and the whole thing exudes an infectious, redemptive aroma.
To build things from the elements of the earth is admirable. To extract music out of the scum of the earth and human rubbish is compelling. It makes us visualize the promises of hope, hear the melodies of redemption, and recognize that even in an apparently God-forsaken place there is beauty and humanity worthy of a symphony.
This project seemed to me like a fitting metaphor as we transition into the New Year. For we all live among rubbish; we are all surrounded by remains of human consumption and greed, by excrements and waste, by bits and pieces of people’s hearts spread around us and of our own hearts dismantling within. We are all like those kids who could end up just a forgotten statistic in a place few people care about, yet who long to fashion something useful out of deprived circumstances and hope out of hopelessness. We all hear sighs and screams and silenced cries in lonely apartments all around the world, and would love to see laughter and music overtake them.
There is a funny, disgusting episode when Jesus heals a blind man in the gospel of John. And it is disgusting because of the way Jesus does it: he spits on the ground, places the resulting mud on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash himself. But it is also beautifully redemptive, because Jesus does this to recall God’s fashioning of humanity – Adam made from the dust of the earth – as if to say, with an act pregnant with symbolic meaning: “I’m still in the business of creation. I can find and fashion humanity even out of the scum of the earth. I can still work with mud, trash, anything, and make you see.”
“You turned my wailing into dancing,” shouts the psalmist. “You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” You turned our trash into music, folks in Paraguay may say. Or You can turn our 2014 regrets and longings into a year-long party, may say we waking up from last evening’s countdown. God may indeed make music even out of the most expected places and of the most reluctant of hearts, and boy, if we would just listen to his melody. It is a song that does not forget our pain but which takes up even our low notes of despair to compose music rising unto eternity, a song all the more compelling because it is not hygienically sanitized but which is made out of the rubbish of who we are.
Psalm 30 then concludes, “that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” That’s my song for 2015 too. Take this landfill that is my heart, Lord, and make a song that is pleasing to You.