Have I mentioned how nervous the Bible makes me? For so many reasons. But I keep finding myself in its stories. Maybe God is reaching through these stories to find me. Lately, almost every time that I sit down and soak in a passage from the Bible, a poem results. I say results, because sometimes it seems that these poems write themselves. Maybe I should read my Bible more often.
One of these encounters recently occurred for me in Jesus’ parable of the sower and soil. In this story, a farmer scatters seed. Some seed falls on a path and is eaten by birds; some falls on rocky places, where it perishes because it cannot put down root; some falls among thorns, the seed grows but is choked by the weeds. The seed that falls on good soil produces a good crop. This is a rare parable because Jesus gives a pretty thorough explanation of the story’s meaning.
When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. Matthew 13:19-23 (NIV)
This story is happening in me. I have been that thorny, weedy soil consumed by the busy-ness and worries of life. There was a time when I had no idea when God was speaking to me. Maybe I knew it, but denied it. I didn’t pay attention. Not so long ago, I was super skeptical of people who had to ask God questions and actually expected to receive responses. Did they actually receive messages from God. Really? Maybe it was just an over-active imagination.
Now, I know that God does speak. Still. Sending us his life-giving Word. Through people, through nature, through Scripture, through poems, through tangled-up balls of yarn–God can send a word in all sorts of manners. The Bible tells a story of God speaking through a talking donkey. Who says how God can and cannot speak? Now I am learning to notice and pay attention. I am noticing words taking root–transforming my heart and my mind.
Like the soil that is ready for seed, I imagine that the heart that is ready for transforming words is soft. Before seed is planted, the soil needs to be tilled, to be softened. Before seed is planted, the weeds and out-of-place plants from last year’s garden need to be pulled to make space for new growth. I doubt that this process is ever comfortable or pain-free–the softening, the tilling, the weeding of a heart. It wasn’t for me.
Thankfully, we don’t need to attack our hearts with hoes and pick axes. It’s not the soil’s job to soften itself or to tear out the weeds. If we are the soil in the story, I think we can let the softening happen. We can lean into it. Our job in tending to the soil of our heart is to show up and to make space.
Henri Nouwen says: “What counts in your life and mine is not successes but fruits. The fruits of your life you might not see yourself. The fruits of your life are born often in your pain and in your vulnerability and in your losses. The fruits of your life come only after the plow has carved through your land. God wants you to be fruitful.”[i]
Let the plow do its work. When soil is soft it is able to let go. When soil is soft it is able to receive.
Open hands. Open heart. Ready to receive True, Life-Giving, Fruit-Making words.
* * *
Planted long ago,
the seed lay dormant
in the dark.
causes the seed
to burst open?
forcing its way
dirt and soil.
toward the sun
This same love that
That moment when you
in heart and mind
and will never be the same.
A glimpse of truth
the darkness in your mind.
Love and light take root.
Then the realization:
That’s what she
I didn’t understand.
But the God-word seed
somewhere in the deep
Until that Word became a part of me.
© 2014 J. L. Sanborn
[i] [i] From Henri Nouwen’s article Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry, http://entermission.typepad.com/my_weblog/files/moving_from_solitude_to_community_to_ministry_henri_nouwen.pdf.