I remember carving pumpkins as a kid. We’d get all the tools out, clear the space on the table, and we’d all step back as the master carver made the first cut. Once the top was off, we’d gather around and scoop out the strings and seeds inside. Sometimes we’d save the seeds to toast and enjoy as a snack.
The rest of the guts were thrown out, though they might have ended up in a compost pile or two.
The the master carver would set to work, shaping the image that was going to be displayed on our front porch, with a candle illuminating the image from within.
My least favorite part was always the stringy smelly bits that we had to scoop out. But the thing is, those strings are what held the seeds in place as the pumpkin was growing. You end up tossing the strings out, but if you leave the stringy mess around the seeds, that becomes matter that adds nutrients to the soil as the seed grows.
The seeds were formed while the pumpkin was growing. You can use the seeds to plant and grow new pumpkins. They are essential parts of the pumpkin.
If the strings are planted with the seeds they give the growing new plants nutrients, a foundation to grow on and sustenance to create newness and new life.
When you create a jack-o’-lantern you create something that embraces the grotesque. The plant becomes a temporary piece of art that will decay when it is left out on your porch for more than a week.
This art, no matter how temporary and imperfect it is, with a gaping smile and a jagged grin, lights up the space around it. You create it to show to other people and share with your family.
Even though we throw out the guts, for lack of a better word, they connect the pumpkin while it grows. The guts stream between the seeds, allowing the mystery of creation form the seeds that could fill a new field with pumpkins the next year.
Sometimes, we wish that the messy parts of us were so easy to discard, cover up, and ignore. But all parts of us are important to our identity. Our past, our frailties, our brokenness, our sin (even), make us who we are. We can’t pretend away our past, no matter how convenient it might be.
Over and over again we see examples in the Scriptures of the surprising and unexpected being the thing that is redeemed. God creates space for all things to be useful, not the things that we only like but the things that we would rather ignore or would like to cover up or pretend away. Those things of us make us who we are. They make us full human beings created, made, formed, shaped in the image of God. God doesn’t have to carve us up and empty us of all that makes us who we are. God uses who we are.
That’s what makes us beautiful even when we have guts, and strings, and seeds; those are the parts of us that God constantly redeems in the midst of an ever renewing creation.
This piece is in response to the following story, which sounds cute… but I don’t do “Cute” theology.
“A woman was asked by a co-worker, “What is it like to be a Christian?” The co-worker[sic: woman] replied, “It’s like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. Then He cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc., and then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.” —Jim O’Bryon’s version in “I Fail to Miss Your Point” 2008 (Also, as it is ubiquitous on the internet without attribution, I cannot find the original authors.)