“. . . & so the seed scatters, & we know not which shall prosper, like the seed sowing that is going on before our eyes on every hillside.” Journal 1894
Seed. November 20, 1894. Lilias and her colleague, Blanche Haworth, set off across the plain in a “country diligence” (a horse-drawn cart) toward the mountain villages surrounding Tablatt, a small French town some seven hours inland. They were going to a people who had never heard the name of Christ. They visited village after village, distributing Gospels along the way, seeking access to the people, and when they could get a hearing, telling the story of the Cross. “It is so beautiful to be allowed to tell it for the first time!” Lilias writes. “If only we could sleep in their huts and just go on! Oh, to get down amongst them as Jesus did.”
When they reluctantly prepared to leave the mountain people, they did not know when they would, if ever, return. In her journal, Lilias painted a man scattering seeds along a hillside from a basket slung over his shoulder, backed by blue sky and indigo mountains and beside this she wrote: ” & so the seed scatters & we know not which shall prosper, like the seedsowing that is going on before our eyes on every hill side.”
Soil. This Sunday the sermon was based on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the four soils that receive or reject the good seed: hard, thorny, rocky, or rich. I ponder, once again, the implications of Christ’s cryptic sermon. Who are the “path people” who don’t receive the seed? The “thorny patch folk” for whom the seed is crowded out by cares and concerns of the world? Or the “rocky persons” for whom the seed roots but dries up quickly for want of moisture? And why is the seed wasted on soil that is not receptive?
Perhaps one of the most poignant examples of “seed” received but rejected is the personal of account by Sir Kenneth Clark in his autobiography, The Other Half: A Self-Portrait. “I had a religious experience. It took place in the Church of San Lorenzo, but did not seem to be connected with the harmonious beauty of the architecture. I can only say that for a few minutes my whole being was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy, far more intense than anything I had known before. This state of mind lasted for several months, and, wonderful though it was, it posed an awkward problem in terms of action. My life was far from blameless: I would have to reform. My family would think I was going mad, and perhaps after all, it was a delusion, for I was in every way unworthy of receiving such a flood of grace. Gradually the effect wore off, and I made no effort to retain it. I think I was right; I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course. But that I had ‘felt the finger of God’ I am quite sure, and, although the memory of this experience has faded, it still helps me to understand the joys of the saints.” (p.108)
Even as I lament his response to the “good seed” I must ask myself: What kind of soil am I? Yes, I have received the seed gladly but how do I cultivate the soil in which that seed will flourish or flounder? Without being bound to a theological discourse about the passage in Luke, I know as a fact that I have been, in a manner of speaking, all of the above mentioned soils. There are definitely times that I have allowed the thorns of everyday living to crowd out the seedlings. . . or I have failed to allow the seed to be nourished in soil cultivated by nutrients that encourage it to thrive. . . and, there are times, sad to say, that I have brushed the seed aside indifferent or distracted. . . .
My husband and I have had an ongoing discussion (we never argue!) concerning the watering of the hanging plants. One of us (mentioning no name, pointing no finger) claims that the pots are full of water – “In fact the water runs right through the pots.” The other one insists that the pots are dry: “Just look at the wilted leaves!” The conflict was resolved by an insight provided in a book of “inspirational humor and short meditations,” We Laughed at her Funeral, by my good friend Carol Grimes. She told how her neighbor had taken care of her African Violet while she was on a trip. Her friend apologized for its appearance – “limp and very sad-looking” – but quickly went on to explain “how she watered it but that the water just ran out the drainage hole in the bottom as fast as she poured it in the top.” Carol went on to say, “What I knew (that she didn’t know I knew) was that she allowed it to dry out completely before resuming the watering, and that totally dry dirt resists water. I knew that from having done the same thing, and not with just my plants. ”
Carol went on to explain what is true not only in nature but in human nature: when we, like the parched plant, allow our spiritual life to suffer from drought the soil becomes nonabsorbent. “Without the constant renewal of my soul that comes from prayer, Bible reading, the companionship of Christian friends and serving others I dry up spiritually. The less I water my soul with worship, the less absorbent I become.”
Sower. Seed. Soil. There is both encouragement and challenge in this parable. Encouragement for the sower: there is nothing wrong with the “good seed.” One is responsible only, like Lilias, for “sowing broadcast.” The challenge is in the soil over which we have control: our own! “Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” (Luke 8:8a)
Jesus said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Painting: Journal 1894