Seasons and Seeds
by Jane Tawel
February 17, 2020
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.