The Sower and The Seed

“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of Containing God’s gift of himself.”
– Mother Theresa

The Sower and The Seed is a parable found in all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  And because Christians have been studying and listening to it for two millennia, it is mostly self-explanatory.

It seems to me that the most pressing question created by this parable is “how” do we create the good soil within our lives.  We cannot control what the birds will do, but we can perhaps make a contribution in terms of what soil we offer the seed.

Although we may understand perfectly what Jesus is saying, the question is how do we go from here, the mind; to here, the heart and the soul, so that there might be some good soil in which the Word of God might take root. 

How do we deepen the relationship that begins and ends in heaven?

Jesus is talking about a heart where the message that God is sending can find a place to land, a place to rest, a place to germinate, and a place to grow.  Our daily lives are the soil.

We might ask ourselves, “How do I tend a garden where I am not only growing something for myself; but I am growing something with God?”

For some of us, sharing ground with God remains a mystery.  For some folks, although they may attend church, read books, and place themselves in the locations where God-talk is happening, there can often be a sense that they are missing something.  As though others are having a conversation with God, and they are left eavesdropping; wondering what it is all about.

Lectio Divina – Divine Reading is a way to both find and cultivate the good soil, upon which the seed of God’s message might take root in our lives.  It is an ancient way of praying with the scriptures – almost 2000 years old for Christians.

Lectio Divina is 4 fold path of prayer: Lectio, Oratio, Meditatio, Contemplatio.

Lectio:

The word Lectio in the Latin means to read – and that is where we begin.  We begin with reading the message that God has sent; we begin with reading scripture.  For example, if you are wanting to pray sometime this evening, you might want to take one of the scriptures that we have read this morning from Isaiah or Romans or Psalms {11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase}.

Find a quiet place to set it before you, and read it out loud in a soft voice.

However we are not reading in order to create a catalogue of knowledge in our heads.  We are not reading in order to create a trophy case of religious knowledge that might impress others, or ourselves, with our own spiritual fitness.  We are reading scripture the way we might read the letter from a loved one, a spouse, a long lost friend; we are reading with the eyes and heart of yearning and longing for relationship.  We are not reading for more information.

As we read with this disposition of an open heart and mind, we are looking for the “triggers” that help us understand that this message from some two to three thousand years ago is for us.  It was written for you and for me.  We come to the scripture knowing that it contains a message from God to us.

It is true today as it was then, in the spirit of the oft heard phrase, “ . . . as it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever.  Amen.”  As we read, we are swimming out into an eternal ocean of meaning that has a message for us.  As we read we relax and we begin to notice that God is giving us a gift in this particular passage.

Once we have found that trigger, that gift, that message, then we begin to repeat it.  We say it again, and again, and again. 

This morning I found that trigger, that message, in a phrase from Psalm 65 – 11, You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

And as we say that phrase, we begin quieting our minds so that we might still our hearts; entering a moment of focus and clarity. 

Taking one, two, three words and forming a prayer with: drench, soften, bless.

That phrase has been sent to us over the arc of time and space with the sole purpose of piercing our well-constructed lives, our well-constructed fortresses, like a light that is peering through a crack in the armor.  Once the light enters the crack in the armor, the seed is finding its good soil; and the eternal God, the maker of heaven and earth, is beginning to have a conversation with us. 

Oratio:

As we say that phrase again and again, we enter a stage called Oratio, Oration, speaking.  And although we are saying the words, we gently have to recognize and admit that we are actually saying words that come from God.

This is the place that I find most of us get stuck in our prayers.  We know the scriptures are filled with the mystical power of God; but we also know that the messages of God would like to have purchase, ground and soil, within our hearts.  And we are reluctant to give up a spot in a place that we have worked so hard to protect and make our own.  We know there is good soil down there; however, we might like to keep our options open, and resist turning the controls of our feeling over to the presence of God.

At the end of this stage we call Oratio, the oration of God’s message in our own mouths, we must make a decision, we must make a move.  Either we are going to lay down our defenses and let God establish the seed of God’s presence within our hearts, or we or going to end our “devotional” time and kick-start ourselves back into a life that we really had no intention of changing.  For the seed to be planted, some of our ground must be given.

Meditatio:

By the grace of a loving God, if we are able to open our hearts to this message, we can actually go deeper.  We enter the stage that is called Meditatio – Meditation.  In this place we ruminate, we weigh, we consider, we travel down the paths of our inner-most selves, shining the light of this message upon the motives and motivations of our hearts. 

Taking the message that we have found in the passage into our mind’s eye, “drench, soften, bless,” we can then see ourselves, weigh ourselves, perhaps befriend ourselves, inspired by the notion that God is dwelling in that place with us. 

One of my old masters, Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk in Australia, likens this experience to the conversation of old friends meeting, and asking one another, “How are you doing?  Where are you?  What have you become?  How might I drench – soften – and bless you today?”

Meditatio, the meditating upon the message from God, is how the seed is given roots, and takes root, in our lives that are hungry for God’s presence.

These two places in prayer – Oratio and Meditatio – Saying and Ruminating – are where the real good soil is found by the seed.  And as a pastor and spiritual friend to some, I find that this is the place where most of us will probably have a “fight or flight” response; again, God’s message means to have purchase in our hearts and minds.  It means surrender, humility, and courage; things often in short supply in lives that we build for ourselves.  However God is more than willing to supply them if we will truly admit that we need them.  Once we can “know” deeply that we have overcome the “fight or flight” impulse, we will find ourselves in a place of resting in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Contemplatio:

Finally in Lectio Divina we come to the last stage; it is the resurfacing.  Coming to the surface having had deep and meaningful time with God, we discover a new stillness and a moment of contemplation.  There is a moment to think about and reflect upon this message that God has shared with us.  Often this Contemplatio – Contemplation – will invite us to some action, some redress of old wrongs.  It might also invite us to see the day before us, or the day behind us, with significantly different eyes. 

We are coming up from the depths where feelings of fear, anger, despair, hope, and love are untangling themselves before the eternal message of God.  And we are resurfacing, perhaps with a new perspective upon ourselves, and the God we want to know.  Sometimes I liken Contemplatio, Contemplation, to a long, haunting, and beautiful note that comes at the end of a symphony.  Although it is a single note, it somehow mysteriously summarizes the experience we have had as a whole.

Rising from the depths of meditation with this long note is also a sure sign that the seed thrown out upon the soil of our hearts by the Sower is actually taking root and growing.  And we can rise from prayer reassured that we are not lost, but found; that we indeed have the good soil somewhere lurking within us.

The good soil is the place where Jesus is telling us that God is finding the greatest harvest for the Kingdom.  And prayer is our participation in this divine, mysterious, and beautiful message that God is sharing with our broken and oh-so predictable world.  I have shared this pamphlet of prayer with you today, because I am assuming that each of us, deep-down, truly, would like to find the good soil within ourselves. 

The most fundamental message of the Bible is that we can know God, and that God desires to know us; and this kind of praying is one of the great bridges that we share with heaven.  All we have to do is walk upon it.

A friend of mine, fellow priest from the past, was once describing how he understood his ministry to a group of Christians on retreat.  He spoke of his life of prayer not as tending a vine of grapes, or digging around in a backyard vegetable garden.  He spoke of his prayer life, and the spiritual life he shared with other Christians, like entering a forest.  A forest of Redwoods and Sequoias. 

Something profound, huge, and timeless.

From that day forward I have borrowed his description when asked by search committees, friends, family about the task that we engage together week in and week out.  Yes, many days of our journey it feels like we are growing tomatoes in the backyard for Jesus and filling up brown paper bags to share with friends.  But then some days when we pray, we will find that we are involved in the raising of forests for Christ. 

We are the people who can plant and nurture something that we may not see realized in our own lives, but in the sweep of God’s eternal arm, we can trust that it is a task that will result in magnificence, splendor, and gravity – like walking through a forest of Redwoods or Sequoias – something other worldly.

Jesus simply asks that we give a piece of good soil in our hearts so that His work might find a place to grow in our lives.  And his promise, really his warning to us, is that when perhaps we least expect it, we will find that such ground “bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

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