Friday, July 8, 2011

Sowing the Seeds

Proper 10A

Some gardeners carefully space seeds out in straight rows in their vegetable gardens. That had long been my method, but this year I got interested in the idea of polyculture (see Hope: Planting and Prayer 4/11/11) which involves a method of sowing that is closer to that described in the Gospel lesson for this Sunday (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). While scattering seeds instead of placing them took some adjustment on my part, it was worth it; the garden has done well so far this summer. I have lost fewer plants than usual to bunnies, there are fewer weeds to pull, and there’s an abundance of produce in my small garden space.

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson touches on the work of environmental stewardship in a couple of ways. The passage begins with Jesus leaving the house where he had been and sitting beside the sea; when he speaks, he tells a story about seeds and thorns and different types of soil. In our theological wanderings, we may sometimes drift into the sort of dualistic thinking that divides spiritual things from physical things (and then almost always goes on to state that the spiritual things are superior to the physical things). Jesus comes along, though, goes outside and walks down to the sea, and speaks about seeds and soil, or fig trees, or birds and lilies. It’s hard to be convinced of this sort of dualism when Jesus goes down to the sea or up a mountain or into a garden, and when Jesus speaks so frequently about the created physical world, the world that God so loves.

Then we have the example of the sower. The sower sows generously, flinging seed around so profligately that some of it lands in places where it can’t grow. This method assures, however, that any place where there is deep, fertile soil will have a seed planted. The sower in the parable isn’t concerned with holding onto the seed (which will have a lower germination rate anyway if it’s saved for another growing season) but with growing as much as possible. If the sower focused on the seed that doesn’t grow, discouragement might set in; there would be a temptation to quit sowing so much seed, maybe to give up the whole task.

Our efforts as individuals and parishes to conserve energy and water, to reduce waste and recycle the waste we do produce, to advocate for the environment can begin to seem insignificant and futile when we look at the enormity of the task of restoring a healthy, sustainable environment and at the weak response from most governments. In a week in which oil spilled into the Yellowstone River, an unusually big dust storm swallowed up Phoenix, a report came out about the amount of plastic debris found in fish in the North Pacific, and the implications of the State of the Climate report continued to be realized (e.g. every month since 1985 has been warmer than the twentieth century average for that month), it’s difficult to see how or whether our efforts will make any difference.

But each effort we make is like planting a seed. Some efforts may not make a difference and some may. We usually won’t know one from the other. That doesn’t mean that our efforts are futile, though; it simply means that our job is similar to the sower’s job. God calls us to be faithful, to keep making the effort, as generous and extravagant an effort as we possibly can. Not every effort will take root and make a huge difference, but this method does ensure that a variety of efforts will be made in a variety of ways. If anything is going to take root and give results in the long run, the faithful efforts of God’s people to care for creation can plant the seeds, make the initial efforts, for the sorts of initiatives that take hold and help heal and sustain our environment.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prayer for High Summer

Gracious God, creator of the world and giver of all good things, we thank you for the beauty of high summer: for flowers and fruits, for birds and crickets, for sunny days, starry nights, and sudden rains. Help us in the warmth and abundance of these days to remember how fragile our future summers are. Help us through our love for you and for your summertime creation to find the wisdom and will to so order our lives that the delights of high summer might remain with us for generations to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The old-fashioned phrase “high summer” came to mind as I sat outside this beautiful morning in central Nebraska enjoying the quieter sounds of birds and chattering squirrels after yesterday’s Fourth of July celebrations. I was praying in gratitude for the beauty of the morning, all the while aware of the need to continue praying for all the living things of the earth as global temperatures continue to rise.

While a few of the prayers in The Book of Common Prayer are close to what I was praying this morning, we lack prayers for the occasions of specific seasons. The prayer of thanksgiving For the Beauty of the Earth (p. 840) comes closest to what I was praying; it captures the gratitude for the beauty of this sort of morning and this time of year, and then turns to praying “that we may safeguard [these good gifts] for our posterity”. The idea of safeguarding something brings to mind a picture of keeping out external forces that would bring harm. In 2011, we know that the forces that threaten the gifts of summer are both internal and external; our own habits threaten the very things we love. Furthermore, we know how close we are to losing what we love; we know that the future of the environment we know and love is fragile. Praying that we can safeguard the gifts of summer sounds a little like praying for continued good health for someone who is terminally ill. has posted an essay Walking Home from Walden from journalist Wen Stephenson. In Part Two of the essay, Stephenson writes about walking along a favorite place, a “sacred spot”, and coming to this realization:

As these realities sank in, it felt like a turning point of some kind had been reached. That day at Stone's Pond, I could no longer pretend, and I knew, with a kind of visceral force: This place is already condemned. In the blink of an eye, it will no longer exist. Not like this. Not the way I know it. And not because some future builder and bulldozer will destroy it, but because they—we—I—already have, by what we've already done. Walking through a hayfield on a cold, bright, and gusty New England morning, it can be hard to believe that the Arctic is melting, the oceans acidifying, the great forests dying, ancient glaciers disappearing. But I knew that all of it was true, and that this sanctuary, this refuge, was a private delusion, a self-indulgent fantasy. There was no refuge. There was no sanctuary. Not for me, not for anyone.

I hope this prayer for high summer helps give words to that tension so many of us are experiencing between our continuing joy in the beauty and wonder we still experience outdoors and the knowledge that the things we love so much are in grave danger of being lost forever; I hope it helps us hold the earth in prayer.