He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. -Mark 26-34
Sowing the seed, my hand is one with the earth. Wanting the seed to grow, my mind is one with the light. Hoeing the crop, my hands are one with the rain. Having cared for the plants, my mind is one with the air. Hungry and trusting, my mind is one with the earth. Eating the fruit, my body is one with the earth. -Wendell Berry
Sunday’s lessons gift us with the most ordinary and extraordinary thing - seeds. And while Jesus uses the image of seeds to germinate in us the principles of the kingdom of God, it is impossible to use the metaphor of seeds without confronting modern crises having to do with seeds.
How it is possible that in our brief historical life, human beings reversed nature’s explosion of biological diversity of species necessary for life on earth? The crisis we’ve caused not only in food but life on earth itself, has obvious implications for the kingdom of God. If we sow sterile seed what will we reap?
The first meditation draws the reader to an appreciation of the evolutionary development of seeds and their reproduction with a quote from Loren Eisley’s famous essay How Flowers Changed the World. The second meditation expresses the wonder of seed in the human hand. The third meditation references Vandana Shiva’s activism around seed preservation.
Meditation One (Introit)
The Journey of Seeds
By contrast, the true flowering plants (angiosperm itself means “encased seed”) grew a seed in the heart of a flower, a seed whose development was initiated by a fertilizing pollen grain independent of outside moisture. But the seed, unlike the developing spore, is already a fully equipped embryonic plant packed in a little enclosed box stuffed full of nutritious food. Moreover, by featherdown attachments, as in dandelion or milkweed seed, it can be wafted upward on gusts and ride the wind for miles; or with hooks it can cling to a bear’s or a rabbit’s hide; or like some of the berries, it can be covered with a juicy, attractive fruit to lure birds, pass undigested through their intestinal tracts and be voided miles away.
The ramifications of this biological invention were endless. Plants traveled as they had never traveled before. They got into strange environments heretofore never entered by the old spore plants or still pine-cone-seed plants. The well-fed, carefully cherished little embryos raised their heads everywhere. Many of the older plants with more primitive reproductive mechanisms began to fade away under this unequal contest. They contracted their range into secluded environments. Some, like the giant redwoods, lingered on as relics; many vanished entirely.
–Loren Eisley 1907-1977 The Immense Journey
(both Eisley quotes from “How Flowers Changed the World”)
Tacuinum Sanitatis, Wheat, 14th century
The industrial era at climax...has imposed on us all its ideals of ceaseless pandemonium. The industrial economy, by definition, must never rest....There is no such thing as enough. Our bellies and our wallets must become oceanic, and still they will not be full. Six workdays in a week are not enough. We need a seventh. We need an eighth....Everybody is weary, and there is no rest....Or there is none unless we adopt the paradoxical and radical expedient of just stopping.
-Wendell Berry from the foreword to Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, by Norman Wirzba
Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken; I will accomplish it. -Ezekiel 17:22-24
Tacuinum Sanitatis, Millet, 14th century
Tacuinum Sanitatis, Rye, 14th century
Unknown Master Protestant Reformation Era Writings, 1516
Meditation Two (Insight) The Handling of Seeds
The great Ice Age herds were destined to vanish.When they did so, another hand like the hand that grasped the stone by the river long ago would pluck a handful of grass seed and hold it contemplatively.In that moment, the golden towers of man, his swarming millions, his turning wheels, the vast learning of his packed libraries, would glimmer dimly there in the ancestor of wheat, a few seeds held in a muddy hand.
-Loren Eisley 1907-1977 The Immense Journey
Meditation Three (Integration) The Saving of Seeds
Well I started to save seeds twenty years ago when I first realized that corporations wanted to own and control seed and they wanted to create property in seed and they wanted to turn it into their intellectual property. …
… For me the imperative to save seeds came from really an ethical urge to defend life’s evolution, life’s diversity, and the freedom of life to reproduce, to multiply, to be able to be distributed. Because I could see that this would create a new kind of scarcity and it has. …
Today for us the work on seed has become the place from where we are responding to the worst tragedies and worst crises of our times.If we really seriously look at the crises we are facing whether it is climate change or unemployment or it’s the crises of food where you can’t be secure in your food at all, the solution to so much of this comes from people being on the land as conservers of the seed, of the soil, of the water.–Vandana Shiva
Imagine a lonely ancestor, 11,000 years ago, exiled or driven from the tribe, living off the grasslands on a veld high above the inhabited valley. Mother and daughter notice that the grasses at this elevation seem ripe, but their seeds do not explode the way the grasses do lower in the valley. Mother and daughter also notice that where seeds have fallen, new sprouts emerge in clusters, sometimes even in the shape of the head of grain. The little girl does not know the word “exponential” but she understands the concept. Each thin green sprout yields one or more clusters of seeds which in turn yield more clusters. She loves thinking about clusters yielding seeds yielding sprouts yielding more clusters. She imagines them in her head until she can't imagine any more.
Mother and daughter begin a game. They take about 25 of their favorite grasses from the veld, sorting out the plumpest of the individual grains, putting them into the soil. The child creates spirals and other patterns with them while her mother simply pushes them randomly in.
And as the grains mature each in their own time, they again reserve the plumpest kernels and plant them and eat the rest. And in a short time, the mother and daughter have a small paradise of grains to accompany their foraging of roots and berries and bark and insects.
In a dry spell, they notice the new plants withering, and so the little girl runs to a high pond with an animal skin and brings back water. Immediately they see the sprouts revive and for the rest of the day they carry water to their little haven of grain. Their field flourishes. The grains themselves adapt to the elevation and micro-climate, becoming stronger and thicker, and plumper. Some seeds cross. Some become more bitter, some sweeter, some starchier. Mother and daughter keep a mental record of every kind of grass, it's maturation time, it's taste, and its ancestry.
I cannot believe that my young mother and her clever little girl 11,000 years ago did not perceive with awe the miracle of growth any less than I do today. In fact, because of their sharpened senses, they understood awe and seeds better than I ever can.
Jesus had a sense of awe for seeds. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head."
“He sees not how!” So it was 11,000 years ago, so it was with the Son of God, so it is with us.
But Jesus takes this sense of awe about this unknown energy, what happens to a seed, and applies it as analogue to something else unseen, that is, the kingdom of God. And in carrying the seeds of the kingdom, we are as pivotal as my exiled seed loving ancestors in changing the world.
I Find You, Lord, In All Things And In All
I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life; as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.
The wondrous game that power plays with Things is to move in such submission through the world: groping in roots and growing thick in trunks and in treetops like a rising from the dead.