There is a famous French painting by Millet in which two women stand in a field, "gleaning." The poor were allowed in to pick up what the rich didn't take.
Churches on the eastern end of Long Island pick up potatoes left behind by picking machines for their soup kitchens. A man who died in New York City left behind a garage full of working toasters, heaters, blenders; he lived the life of a scavenger. I think of Farm Share in Homestead, Fla., that receives and delivers nationally tons of vegetables "too ugly" to ship. Imagine the pressure on a tomato or a squash. It must look perfect to go to market, just like many of us must look better than we do in order to go to market.
Gleaning is an environmental practice of some significance. It reduces waste while intensifying pleasure—in yard sales and thrift shops and "white elephant" parties at Christmas. It gives objects second and third lives. Gleaning is an attitude as well as an act. It bends and leans towards resurrection. Trash becomes treasure like cross becomes crown.
Many of us spiritually resemble the too-crooked crookneck squash. I think of all the people either on disability or hoping to get disability. Something broke in them. They fell off a roof or a ladder. They had a car accident. They got hurt in a crime. Now they are no longer perfect and can't be sent to market. Gleaners still care about people like this: we go to the field and save them.
Gleaners love Habitat for Humanity's jail project. It brings pre-fab houses to jails and lets prisoners build houses. Gleaners hate to see time or people wasted.
We had 55 poinsettias left over from the Christmas service. They dried and drooped. I took all the poinsettias home, turned them on their bottoms and now watch my new garden appear every day. I'm going to add the Easter lilies, too. I also took all the pots back to the garden store. They were very happy to have them rather than to see them end up in the u-know-where. These plants had a good life while blooming; they may as well have a good life as dirt.
Most of us hope for the same for our bodies. When they say ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust over us, we hope our bottoms and our ends will turn up good soil. When I think of life after death, I will be able to think of this soil I built, gleaned from the old flowers. Gleaning will keep me in shape for resurrection.
The Rev. Donna Schaper is senior pastor of Congregational UCC in Coral Gables, Fla. Her latest book is "A Sacred Speech: Telling the Truth in Love," published by Skylights.