Seasons and Seeds

Seasons and Seeds

by Jane Tawel

February 17, 2020

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Lent is fast upon us which for me, among other things, means a time of practicing the intentional spiritual discipline of silence, not to escape although that is healthful sometimes too, but to find more strength to translate faith into action. Faith does not grow without action and action can not sustain us without faith.

This quote from the poet Christian Wiman says it convinct-ingly and beautifully:

Silence is the language of faith. Action – be it church or charity, politics or poetry – is the translation. As with any translation, action is a mere echo of its original, inevitably faded and distorted, especially as it moves farther from its source. There the comparison ends, though, for while it is true that action degrades that original silence, and your moments of meditative communion with God can seem a world away from the chaotic human encounters to which those moments compel you, it is also true that without these constant translations into action, that original, sustaining silence begins to be less powerful, and then less accessible, and then finally impossible.” (Christian Wiman in My Bright Abyss)

 

I am as in so many things, I guess, rather a weird, strange loner sort of “lent-practitioner”.  Lent for me is not so much of a “church thing” as it is a life-thing.No one else in my family practices it and the people and friends I do have that may observe the season of Lent do so because it is their job to preach it or because they have done so all of their lives. I did not grow up practicing Lent, but I did grow up amongst the small farms intersected by straight rows of roads, farms that used to dot the Midwest of America like prayer books in pews. It was a place where people lived into Seasons. It was a place where people lived into the Seasons of their Protestant beliefs in the same way they lived into the seasons of the soil and the weather and their families.

 

The word “Lent”, means simply “Spring”. Spring, where I live today in SoCal, is not all that different than Fall or Winter.  It is a little different than our hot, dry summers, but still, not so much. But just as it is everywhere on this wonderful globe, humans will celebrate (or groan about) seasons. And just as it is everywhere, Spring is a time when we feel a sense of anticipation. We are beings meant to be in tune with seasons. They are after all perfect metaphors for our very lives. Yoko Ono says of Life’s  passing Seasons:

 

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

 

 

Spring is that wonderful time when we feel innocent again, because the Winter has passed. Whether you find yourself in Southern California or Siberia or Paris or Kenya, Spring means youth, growth, planting, change, hope.  Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”

 

Spring is one of my favorite seasons because I love anticipation. I am one of those people who love the mysteries of the pregnant times. I am silently punishing of those who would reveal the ending before I have enjoyed all the chapters. I am “all in” during the preparation stages, and feel morosely depleted when it’s “all over”. Not everyone is like this, for instance my delightful mother never met a secret she wanted to keep or a gift she wanted to wait to open. We are, if embraced, a wonderful world of unique human beings. Remember when that thing went around where colors that you looked good in were assigned seasons? My age may say “Winter” but my heart is Spring.

 

Most of us lucky enough to live long enough miss the innocence of  our youth. However, most of us also would admit that we don’t really want to stay children forever. To be the best human one can be, is to be purposeful, and that means to “grow-up” and grow-out. Just as the span of a person’s life is metaphorically marked by seasons, so too, is each year, and beyond that, for spiritually maturing adults, seasons are something we must determine, something internal and intentional. If I truly want to grow as a person with both sustaining faith and purposeful action, I can (and must) determine the seasons my soul needs consistently, perhaps daily, in order to expand, enlarge, and care for not only itself, but for others.

 

Growth means that we must continually go through all the seasons. The small farms of my youth or perhaps the plants now perking up your kitchen window provide the similes for how we were created to exist. Winter means dying to things that are useless and unhealthy. Spring means to anticipate, to nurture, to hope, to plan ahead. Summer is the time of reaping the harvest of one’s hope and faith.  Autumn is the grateful sigh at the end of the hard work and when we share the bounty we have reaped.

 

We are growing some seeds in our kitchen right now. Today they lie in wait under faithfully wetted paper towels—little specks of dark brown that look like nothing more than useless dirt-freckles. But we know.  We know what is possible with a little patience and a little faith in those small brownish seeds. We know because we have lived through Spring before. We have done the difficult work of digging at hard earth before. We have planted before. We have weeded before. We have watched in anticipation of small green shoots before.  We have tasted the fruits of our work and waiting before. We have seen buds become bounty, before. Before it has been Spring and so we can, with hope, plant for what comes After.

 

Before, there is faith. After, there must be action. And then faith again. And then action again.  As the poet-philosopher says truly, “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose on this great planet, under the heavens.”

 

My practice of Lent is based on my own journey towards meaning. I have a particular and peculiar worldview that believes there is meaning beyond what I can see and taste today. I am a nobody, a little brownish dirt-freckle sitting hopefully on Life’s Counter, a human-seed still growing, but with barely enough faith to believe that somehow my small little self will be worth anything at all ever. But that is where my own kind of faith in the future and a germinating hope in the passing and renewing of Seasons comes in. One of the greatest humans who lived and a profound teacher on living, was one who said this about how we should live like seeds in a different way of understanding our world: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” ( Jesus in Matthew 13)

 

A person does not have to practice a religiously orchestrated season such as Lent, but all humans need to find the cleared paths through the fields, the tools to scythe the weeds, the seeds to nurture along and hide in the dark, rich earth; and the difficult but fulfilling work that can only be done by one’s own hands.

 

We all need to have faith that tomorrow, the seeds will grow into food or flowers.  We all need to act on that faith. We may be the smallest of seeds, but as that great gardener of souls, Mother Teresa once said, “not all of us can do great things, but all of us can do small things with great love.”

 

As Christian Wiman says, faith untranslated into action, are like seeds that stay forever dormant. But action without faith, which is really just another word for Love, will never feed our own souls nor nourish the needy of this world.

 

If we are the seeds, then faith is the compost, hope is the water, and Love is the Sunshine.

 

We must create often and intentionally seasons of dormancy, with the anticipation and hope that the rains and sunshine and rich loam will be provided.

 

We are all different kinds of seeds, unique in our needs and our growth patterns. Just like plants, we all have different requirements, different looks, different attributes, different gifts to the world, and different ways of finding nourishment to grow. But we all have seasonal needs and, hopefully, we all can still find within our small selves, a desire to resist remaining dormant and to seek growth and enlarge our souls and give something meaningful to others. I may grow from a religiously orchestrated Lenten observance.  You may grow from a hike up Mt. Kailesh or a sabbatical from your job. Some of us grow into flowers that, as love does, give beauty and solace to others; and some of us grow into broccoli or cabbage that can, as truth may do, purge some of the poop out of the world.  But all of us need the same basic things in order to grow to maturity, We all need a little faith, a little hope, a little usefulness, and a whole lot of love.

 

 

What we need to grow and to act and to keep believing, will come from what as seeds, we already have within ourselves, and as plants, from what we must partake of from without ourselves.  And just as the seasons turn round and round, all will come in due time. But to riff on that old idiom, if we are to bloom where we are planted, we must live with purpose and hope into all the seasons that this very day may take us.

 

For me, purposefully planting seasons of giving up and letting go within my soul, spiritual germination tactics, if you will, is like becoming a small mustard seed. Then, in hope, I wait for that which with a little sunshine and a little rain, a little faith and a little love, will grow into something large enough, something active enough, something as big as a tree enough, and something as nourishingly truthful and caringly loving enough, so that others may find room and love in which to nest.

 

Sun & rain

“Sun & rain” by sofimi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

 

 

Trust a Dance Move

Trust a Dance Move

by Jane Tawel

June 6, 2018

 

https://www.facebook.com/xochitl.dalton.9/videos/10206469354478362/?t=2

 

If we could see the World the way God sees it, we might see something like this dance concert.  In it, three little girls, all who look quite different from each other, but who obviously have the same teacher, the same desire to dance, and hopefully, the same loving families in the audience; all try to follow the directions of their off-stage director. I am sure when these children got home to their respective families, they all thought they had done a marvelous job creating something beautiful, and that is as it should be, because children do create beautiful things just by their complete joy in the creative process.  But when we grow up and lose our joy in the simple act of creating something for the mere pleasure of creating and sharing, we lose something basic and critical to our humanity, and more importantly to our God-image.

 

This video is a visual parable that I imagine Jesus would love.  One little girl is so terrified she doesn’t dance at all. One little girl has her eyes on the off-stage director but eventually gets distracted looking at the dress of her neighbor and eventually is on the floor crawling around on the dusty stage.  The other little girl, who is black, which in this world still means something, looks back and forth between the off -stage director and her loving father whom you can hear chuckling behind the video camera.  If Jesus were telling stories today, He might substitute this dance parable for His own parable about the seeds sown in different kinds of ground.

 

We have an Off-Stage Director, too.  And when we are children or young in our faith and our innocent hope  is intact in our belief in a Director Who cares; we keep our eyes trustingly focused on the Director of the Dance.  But eventually and tragically, most of us lose that childlike faith in the Off-Stage Director.  We decide the applause really is because we are just so “all that” and fantastic.  Or maybe the applause ends after a while and all we can hear  is the critical and skeptical World judging us. So  maybe we stop dancing all together and we figure that the  Great Heavenly Director doesn’t think too much of our dancing abilities either.

 

I am truly – and I say this with much self-love – the world’s worst dancer.  I am the world’s geekiest dancer and I have seen Bill Gates dance, so there you have it.  My children long ago forbade me to dance, so as not to embarrass them, even in the privacy of our own home. I secretly wonder if this why my husband calls me “Chicken” because when I dance I look like a poorly plucked chicken trying to escape the frying pan – and this is not when I am in fact doing that old stand-by, “The Funky Chicken”, that great practical joke of a dance that Rufus Thomas played on unsuspecting “white boys and girls”. (I do happen to do the Funky Chicken pretty well.)

 

When I dance, I look like a cross between a scarecrow in a tornado and a sock puppet of Ichabod Crane on steroids.  The only one who has ever enjoyed dancing with me is my dog, Jolie. And she scratches when she does the waltz so it is always a bit risky on my part to accept her as a partner.  I came of age in the eighties, when music was such that you could pretty much dance like a geek and get away with it. Or so I thought.  Add to that, the fact that I lived in a part of the world where dancing was still frowned on, with people believing that the Devil loved him some Disco for sure.  Take my history into account and I really ought to be able to claim disability payments for what my dance moves have done to my psyche.  Come to think of it, my children have probably already each claimed disability for the trauma that watching me dance has caused them.

 

But as I watch the video-taped children dance, I think about what dancing is really for. Whom is it really for? Last night my husband and I went to a local event that brought back some of the traditions and ideas of American Chautauqua. Many lovely moments were created but one was a time of group line and square dancing – no abilities required other than the desire to have fun dancing and the ability to follow the Caller’s directions. There was also a Chautauqua Campfire Sing-along. Being there made me realize how much we have lost in community  to our individual pursuits and how much we have given up doing things  just for the sheer enjoyment of doing them –no applause, no payment, no fame necessary.

 

What would it take to see each day as a chance to join in the great joy-filled         community-based Dance of Life? No one was ever created to prefer dancing by oneself. What would it take to get back to being able and willing to listen to The Great Caller’s Directions in this Dance of Life? None of us was created to dance without loving Directions.

 

I think about what it would take for some people to get back on the stage and not dance for the applause but to dance for the praise of the Great Off-Stage Director. I think about my years of dancing for the applause that ultimately was never loud enough, never long enough, never enough; and then even more years of my hearing the figurative, metaphoric boos and hisses that my insecure soul feels about all my life’s work – the seeming lack of confirmation of anything well done, the losses, the fears, the mistakes, the egregious sins both large and small.

I think about how many times I have been the little girl standing off to the side, too afraid to start dancing in front of everyone. How many times, like the little girl in the middle, have I lost my balance twirling in this spinning Globe’s pathetic imitation of God’s Great Created Dance Moves? How many times have I been obsessed and taken my eyes off the Director to covet my neighbor’s stuff; how often have I fallen to the ground and not been able to stop worrying about things and get back into The Dance?

 

What would it take for me to embrace the fact that the way I see my dancing – even the way those I love see my dancing—even my most loving audience members – does not truly matter as long as I am dancing because I love to dance and because I love them and because ultimately, I want to honor my Director?  Whether the gig  of life is a long run or a short run, what ultimately matters is if I am following with attentive joy, my Life-Dance cues by The Director of The Dance. What matters is if I trust and obey.  He, who Choreographed The Waltzing Stars, the Grooving Whales, the Gliding Worms, the Twirling Starlings, the Hip-Hopping Hippos, and all the dancing children of this world,– He can direct my moves.

 

I like to imagine that Heaven is a place where I will have endless time to learn things.  I plan on learning the cello and playing it with Mozart directing. I will finally learn to draw from Vincent and Raphael, just for starters.  And I plan on spending a few thousand years learning to dance – it will take at least that long. But truthfully, I imagine when, God willing, I am finally caught up in that Great Dance among the Heavens, that none of us will need to learn to dance and no one will be dancing for the applause.  We will all be too eternally elated to be moving with The Great Director and Creator of The Dance, Who will no longer be Off-Stage, but dancing brilliantly and gloriously amongst us.

 

In the video with the children, the song they are dancing to includes this paraphrase of the words of Jesus’s instructions from  when He came from Off-Stage to live among us  On-Stage. As  Bob Marley prophesies and admonishes:  “Don’t worry. Every little thing is going to be alright.”

The Creator of the Dance, with a love for us despite our disabilities, fears, and missteps, assures us humans, “If I am watching over the smallest sparrow dance, surely I will watch over your dance moves.” Young MC, might not advise a geeky dancer like me to “bust a move”; but The Great Director whispers to my heart from Off-Stage, “Trust a Move”.

And so once upon another time, this geeky funky chicken gets up, adjusts her tutu, prays for Off-Stage guidance,  and heads back out on that Dance Floor.

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