Gail and I are currently serving a transitional ministry call among the good people of Trinity Covenant Church in Salem, Oregon. The state capitol, Salem nestles in the arms of the Willamette River Valley, the destination of several hundred thousand pioneers who undertook in the mid-1800’s the rigors of the Oregon Trail across the vast and little-known central expanse that would become Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. It’s a fecund and fertile wonderland here in the valley, among the richest farmlands on the face of the earth, predominating these days in the cultivation of grains, grass seed and grapes. Beside the crops, though, every square centimeter of uncultivated soil seems to sprout up with something or the other, so it has me thinking today about seeds.
I’ve heard it said that there are three possible futures for, let’s say, a grain of wheat: it can be left on the stalk or placed in a sack as feed for God’s beasts, ground into flour or otherwise transformed in a myriad of ways as food for God’s humans, or planted back in the ground and, under the proper conditions, allowed to produce the miracle we call a crop.
If I were that seed grain, my first inclination would be to prefer the last of the three. It sounds regenerative, even heroic. As surely as multiplication beats subtraction, so surely would I find this preferable to being eaten by cattle or crushed under the weight of a millstone.But what of that planted seed? Only on second thought do I consider the trauma necessary to accomplish its predestined regenerative glory. First I must be buried in the cold ground, concealed in the oxygen-less depths for the required time. Buried! It was writer Norman McLean who quipped something along the line, “There are certain things I am meant to do, and, as long as I am on the oxygen side of the earth’s crust, I had best be going about them.” But not the seed. It is covered, sealed, suppressed, hidden away, closed over by what the songwriter calls ‘the ‘whelming flood.’ Held fast by life’s perplexities, I lie immobilized, seized up, stock-still as death. Is it the stillness of the grave, separation from God? Or is it more rightly the gestation and constriction of a womb, secure within the bosom of God?
Thus abandoned beneath the earth, I wait in the dark. It may be the darkness of my despair or ignorance, the darkness of my sin or failure, the darkness of my isolation or loneliness. But when all around me seems pitch black and unintelligible, something, even within that dusky dungeon, quickens within me. Whatever it is, it, in concert with the moisture around me (my tears? the dampness of the divine breath? both?), breaks me open. As I simply submit to the regenerative power of God, my shell is cracked and something profound happens within my brokenness.
From my landlocked space in God’s grip, warmth and light begin to attract a strange and tiny marvel upward from within me, while light-repelling roots spread below to seek a footing, and my transformation proceeds -- sprout, blade, ear -- a metamorphosis. From the place where God bade me trust him in the darkness, I’m enlivened by the freshing of the Spirit, softened to a breaking point, and grow upward into the warmth, light and fruitfulness of a vital relationship with my Creator.
Jesus: “A sower went out to sow his seed… and some fell onto good soil (Luke 8:5,8).”
Again Jesus: “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much… (John 12:24).”
~~ RGM, June 19 2018