Christianity will not go away. And perhaps we might learn some things from one another
if we open our hearts and minds during this time of upheaval.
“Turning the Soil” – Reflections on Mark 4: 1-9, 26-29 (Parables of the Sower and the Growing Seed)
We are in the second week since the corona virus, COVID-19, has been officially declared a pandemic. Schools and businesses are closed; social events of over 10 people are cancelled. Many gatherings, including the corporate work and worship of the church have migrated to digital platforms. We are learning to live in virtual space, connecting to one another over screens, phone lines, and email. Even the practice of staying in touch via handwritten cards and letters has made a resurgence. These are unprecedented times for all of us. I asked my mother, who is 87, if there is anything in her memory that feels similar, and the only thing she could point to was the outbreak of polio in the 1940’s. It is in this context that we hear these two “seed” parables of Jesus from Mark’s gospel.
Let us pray… Lord, now may the words of my [pen] and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight – you, who are our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Spring is planting season – and that is why, when we were planning our series of “Faith Practices” for Lent, I chose to include these stories of planting and growth. Any gardener can attest that there is a primal, spiritual component to the cycles of tilling, planting, and harvesting.
Even though I consider myself a terrible gardener (with much evidence to support that claim), I relish the opportunity to dig into good, rich soil in the springtime. The act of planting fills me with hope and excited expectation. Watching seedlings break through the soil is like experiencing the resurrection of Easter. Every. Single. Time.
That was then.
In today’s context, this spring feels more like rocky, shallow soil. A barren desert rather than fertile ground. There is too much fear and anxiety. Too much disruption of our routines. Too many people out of work. Too many students out of school. Too many parents trying to juggle too many competing responsibilities. Too few ways to feel “productive.” Too much time to worry. Too much news coverage of disease and death.
As we are encouraged to stay home, to give up our freedom of movement, to shrink our walking-about world in hopes of “flattening the curve,” it can be a terribly hard place from which to find signs of resurrection and growth.
And then I remember that I recently returned from a vacation to the American Southwest. We visited national and state parks across New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. It is some of the most beautiful landscape in all of these 50 states. Native peoples have thrived here for thousands of years, growing food and building societies, and creating beautiful art, music, and faith traditions.
All this is a place that is largely a desert. Rocky, shallow soil.
So as I read these parables, I wonder about what it really takes to make “good soil.” I wonder about how good rich soil can become depleted and lifeless without someone paying attention to its condition.
The quality of soil isn’t fixed, but is dynamic. Just like our relationship to God and to our faith.
And some seeds thrive better in soils that are a bit acidic or have more/less clay to sand ratio. Which makes me wonder about the kind of seed that God is planting. It certainly isn’t just one variety – one seed for all people in all places for all times. We believe in a God who is StillSpeaking, a God who meets us “wherever we are on life’s journey.” That doesn’t sound like a “one seed fits all” kind of God. And God’s seed certainly isn’t limited. God sows seed extravagantly, even wastefully, scattering seed onto ground where it has little chance of taking root. Maybe that is good news for us as well. Maybe some seed is meant, not for us, but to nourish others – like the seed that feeds the birds. Maybe other seed is only meant to sprout for a short time and then wither out – I can point to LOTS of examples in my own life where I thought I knew something but it turned out that maybe I didn’t have all the truth I needed. I am grateful for many seeds of thinking and behavior that didn’t last all the way to harvest.
And then there is the seed that does take root in us, the seed we are ready to receive and to nourish, the seed that produces 30 – 60 – 100-fold.
I was reflecting the other day that for over a decade, the church has been wringing its hands over what to do to reach people who can’t or choose not to come to church on Sunday mornings. How do we connect with children, youth, and families whose lives are overscheduled, and people of all ages and stages of life who are part of an increasingly mobile society.
Well, now we are finding out how to do just those very things. Maybe this is a time for growth and maybe – just maybe – there is an important word or two from God for the church in the midst of this crisis.
In my Judaism class this week, the rabbi commented that for 2000 years being Jewish was defined by and centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. Then, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the last 2000 years of Jewish identity has been defined by rabbinic tradition, and practices centered in homes and in synagogues. Today, the Jewish community – like all of us – are redefining once again how they connect as people of faith in a much more virtual world.
Her words brought me hope, a reminder that no matter what is going on, God is present. Judaism will not go away. Christianity will not go away. And perhaps we might learn some things from one another if we open our hearts and minds during this time of upheaval.
I close with words that have been shared with me by a number of you this week… a coincidence I cannot overlook.
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”
— Kitty O’Meara, And The People Stayed Home
P.S. for those who are interested, here is a short video on the “Resiliency of Hopi Agriculture.”