A Time to Plant

14 08 2010

Now that it’s finally stopped raining, I’ve been going for a lot of walks, usually through neighborhoods where I get some really beautiful views of the Puget Sound or at dusk, quick glimpses through windows and screen doors of a thousand different lives.  I stumble over cracked sidewalks and overgrown bushes and duck low hanging trees, and I pass a lot of personal gardens.  I’m not a gardener at all, but this time of year offers a view of magical, colorful creation at its best.  Bright purple cabbage, yellow corn, leafy green lettuce, red tomatoes, yellow squash and a confetti of wildflowers dot my walking paths.

It gets me thinking about growing.

We were made to create.  In the image of our Creator we have been invited to join the repetitive yet spontaneous and endless process of production.  We get so bogged down in the pressure to produce that we forget about the God-nature of it, but it’s true.  We were made to imagine and dream and till the soil until something beautiful sprouts.  With this likeness in our being, in our very function, it’s no wonder that we (particularly in the industrial West) so often skew the balance between work and rest.  To work is in our nature; even if we have a few lazy days (or years!) we still long to see the fruits of our labor.  We grow grumpy and frustrated when our lives don’t seem to make “enough” of a difference in the world, when our work doesn’t seem to ever fix anything or stay the ever-persistent demands of survival.  Even when we’re tired – exhausted – we.  keep.  moving.  Stopping won’t get us anywhere.

Lately, as I walk through my neighborhood, I find myself uncomfortable with the stillness of both the streets and my own soul.  I whine to God that I’m walking alone, that my dearest friends are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, and that I have nothing “more exciting” to do.  But then I see a garden and I’m reminded of how things grow.  We plant for the harvest, but the harvest won’t happen without the tedious, time-consuming tending of the soil.  The crop won’t last long if we don’t take the time to water and dig and watch and wait.  The real growth happens underground.

And so, among the gardens I pray.  I am reminded that I am never alone and that God himself is faithfully tending to my every need and preparing me for a harvest that will last.  Even more, he invites me to create myself with him.  He gives me space to till the soil too.

Too often, because we’re so busy bent over, close to the ground, looking for the fruit to pick, our prayers remain in the present, or in the past that, like a weed we can’t get rid of, crowds out the crops we really want.  We pray for the needs of the day or of the moment – all good prayers and in line with Jesus’ teaching in what is commonly referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer.”  We know someone who is sick, or hurting, or scared, and so we pray.  We feel anxious or angry or alone, and so we pray.  We’re haunted by certain memories or mistakes, and so we pray.  But we get so busy in the pace of the work, that eventually all we seem to be able to do is keep up.

Yet in the moments when the ground is empty, then God invites us to plant, and we get to lift our eyes and look ahead.  We get to pray for the coming harvest that’s still invisible.  We get to pray for future things.  We no longer just have to pray for survival, or for God to “fix” things (even though sometimes there are seasons where that is all we can do), but we get to pray also for God’s creative, proactive presence in our lives and our world.  We get to dream with him what it could look like for his Kingdom to spring up through the earth wherever we’re planted, in giant purple heads of cabbage and in tiny little berries.  We get to pray for crops large and small.

Don’t get too hung up on the harvest.  Every seventh year God asked his people to let the land lie, and to remember that even though they were made to co-create with him, it was imperative that they remember who the first Creator was.  And when they worried about what they would eat that year, he reminded them that he would bless them with everything they needed during the time of rest – with an abundance, actually.

Heed the Creator’s command to rest, and in so doing, pray for the underground growth.  Don’t resist the stillness or the silence or the loneliness you may find yourself in.  It’s the way that we plant and pray for future things, and it matters.  It’s the way that the mustard seed grows.

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A Lent God Will Notice

20 02 2010

A couple years ago my spirituality professor shared the idea of taking retreats of engagement and not just withdrawal.  This was a new concept to me – the idea of resisting the urge to not only withdraw to quiet and comfortable, but to retreat into something new, to choose an action or environment that would invite God’s presence into my life in a new way.

The idea was new to me then, but it was not new to God.  In fact it fits closely with the biblical understanding of repentance, which not only means to stop doing something but, more fully, to change your heart and change your way.  As we enter the season of Lent, the annual period in the liturgical church calendar where believers prepare themselves for the impending cross and resurrection of Christ through repentance and fasting, I think it also offers us a pathway to the heart of God.

Do you delight to know God’s ways?  Do you delight in his nearness?  Even if we have the best of intentions this Lenten season, we still might miss the point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve given up significant habits during Lent over the years.  And even as I do it again this year, I remember the call to not just withdraw or withhold, but to engage.  Repentance is both ceasing and striving at the same time (it can sometimes take a lot of courage and a lot of strength to move in a new direction!).

Wishing you hadn’t chosen to give up sugar, caffeine, or Facebook this go around?  Consider some of these other options, taken from Isaiah 58, the quintessential biblical instruction on fasting.  Some involve abstaining, others radical engagement.  In the 43 days we have left, whichever you choose, move in a new direction:

– free those who are wrongly imprisoned

– lighten the burden of those who work for you

– let the oppressed go free

– remove the chains that bind people

– share your food with the hungry

– give shelter to the homeless

– give clothes to those who need them

– do not hide from relatives who need your help

– remove the heavy yoke of oppression

– stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors

– feed the hungry

– help those in trouble

– keep the sabbath day holy; don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day; honor the sabbath in everything you do on that day; desist from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure, and speaking your own word.

Wonder what’s in store for those who fast this way?  Isaiah puts it this way:

“Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’…Then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.  And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.  Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell…Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isa 58: 8-14)

I invite you to read the entire passage here.