(Floor mosaic of a the Tree of Life (as a pomegranate) from the Big Basilica at Heraclea Lyncestis. Bitola, Macedonia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, May 15, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Tuesday, May 15, 2012:
Psalm 78:1-39 (Morning)
Psalm 78:40-72 (Evening)
1 Timothy 2:1-6
Matthew 13:18-23 (NRSV):
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Many commentaries (particularly those of a more evangelical-type theology) liken the seeds in this parable to people--ignorant ones who are whisked away in the clutches of the devil, "backsliders," ones who can't resist the call of worldly temptations, and, of course, the pious and righteous ones.
But what if this parable is simply about what it says it is--hearing the Word in all times and all places? Perhaps we fail to hear the power in this parable if we go straight to it being a dire warning about eternal salvation/damnation and fail to consider that it could be about our dull moments in our ability to perceive God's constant call to us.
As we discussed in yesterday's reflection, it's important to remember that only 25% of the seeds in this parable bear fruit. In the first scenario (the seeds on the path) they never got a chance, the birds gobbled them up. It makes me wonder how many times God tells us something but we were just too distracted or too anxious, or too raw, and whatever had our focus had its way with us. In the second scenario (the rocky soil) it's easy to recall all the times in our lives when things started to take off, it all seemed good and right and clearly laid out ahead of us, but without a mentor, or an experienced guide, well...we can only get so far on our own. The time wasn't right or the place wasn't right for it to take root. The seeds growing among the thorns remind me of all the times we can be in toxic environments at home or work or church that choke us out, burn us out, or parasitize us.
Several studies over the years have assessed the speed at which we assimilate and retain knowledge, and it's long been known that it takes a person at least seven times of using or studying a piece of information before it's retained. Yet the way we usually look at this parable is with the (false) assumption we can learn something the first time we hear it. Scripture teaches us that God's call to us never lets up; it's our ability to hear and retain that is the problem.
The people who organize and present review courses for medical board exams constantly remind their attendees of the "It takes seven times to remember something," mantra. However, for two decades I have watched second year medical students studying for Part One of their boards constantly assimilating "more" study materials rather than read and re-read and re-re-read the materials they have.
We probably have that tendency as spiritual beings, too...which is part of the beauty of the liturgy in our beloved Book of Common Prayer. Whether it's the Nicene Creed, the Collect for Purity, or our responses, most of us have several chunks of the liturgy that we know by heart.
Repetition guards us from being swept away like those seeds sown out in the open. It grounds us and helps us take root, so when we grow, we are supported. It spurs us to hang out with like-minded folks rather than be caught up in the thorny world, unable to even see out, as well as calls to us to share the Good News in our thoughts, words, and actions. It's a pretty safe bet that even under huge stress, most of us could remember something from the Book of Common Prayer.
What is heartening, though, is when something we hear in God's call to us really does take root and grow, we are so fecund and so prolific that the amount of fruit borne from the process is staggering. When it's good, it's good--but there needs to be sustenance for that other 75% of the time. In that sense, it is where the words in our Book of Common Prayer matter. We hear them again and again, we know some of them in our hearts, and not only do keep us rooted to God, they send out little runners to each other and weave us into a solid mass of roots. What we lack in depth sometimes, we gain in breadth. If you've ever tried to pull out a bed of plants whose roots are bound up with each other, you know exactly what this means.
What are the words in the Book of Common Prayer that not only root you to God, but to each other? How do these words assist you in hearing God's call to you a little more efficiently?