Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good Soil

A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.  Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture.  Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and checked it.  Some fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold. ... The seed is the word of God.  The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy.  But these have no root; they believe only for awhile and in a time of testing fall away.  As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.  But as for that in good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.  --  Luke 8:5-8, 11-15

The Parable of the Sower this is called.  It answers the question, "Why do some people believe in God, and others do not?"  Every time I read it, different aspects resonate with me.

I have seen myself in the seed among the thorns.  There have been times when I took God very much for granted.  I went about my life not thinking about God at all, wrapped up in the cares of the world.  My happiness in each of these times was entirely dependent on things, on other people, on entertainment, and to some extent, on appearances.  I was trying desperately to stave off the feeling that I was essentially alone.  I did not realize that I needed only to turn to God.

I have seen one of my children in the rocky part of this parable.  He did believe in God when younger, but somehow he had the impression that God was like a superhero, who when called upon would come down and remove everything bad from the picture.  When his prayers were not answered immediately as he wanted them to be, he stopped believing in God.  He did not realize that God is not his simply to command, that he must also listen to what God has to tell him.

Lately, I am seeing a growing number of people in the compacted path.  The parable describes the change as being the result of "the devil [who] comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe".  They had believed, but then they began to doubt.

Doubt is not a bad thing at all.  At times it is essential to doubt, to doubt what others tell us, to doubt our own understanding.  It is only when doubt turns into skepticism, and skepticism becomes hardened into certainty, that the word of God cannot not find any way of getting through to us. 

I'm not sure how someone can be certain that there is no God, anymore than I understand how someone can be certain of God, as if they know everything there is to know, either way.  Both extremes of belief require more self-confidence than I am capable of.  I am much more apt to understand how someone can be uncertain about God, willing to accept that there is more to the mystery of God than we can ever know.

Perhaps "self" is the key word there.  The more "self"-confidence required to maintain one's belief system, the less God-confidence needed.  The more certain one is (whether of God or of no God), the less wonder is allowed to creep into one's consciousness.  And then, how will God ever amaze you?

For it is the ability to wonder and to be amazed that allows God to penetrate into our soul (or soil, as the metaphor in the parable goes).   It is our ability to accept that which has no rational explanation that allows us to see and hear God.

Reading recently in a beautiful book, titled "Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion," by Abraham Joshua Heschel, I came across the following,

     "The attempt to convey what we see and cannot say is the everlasting theme of mankind's unfinished symphony, a venture in which adequacy is never achieved.  Only those who live on borrowed words believe in their gift of expression....  What smites us with unquenchable amazement is not that which we grasp and are able to convey but that which lies within our reach but beyond our grasp...." (pg 5)
Heschel uses the word "ineffable" to describe God, because essentially God is beyond our grasp; and cannot be fully expressed in words.  I wonder how our thinking would change if we too called God, "the ineffable",or "the mystery", or "the enigma", instead of "God".  "God", as a title, is too weighted with concrete images for many people.  Only when we become aware that we cannot explain what we see and hear, that there is no reason for what we see and hear, then we have opened up within us a place for God.

Heschel writes, "Doubts may be resolved, radical amazement can never be erased.  There is no answer in the world to  man's radical wonder." (pg.13)   Elaine Pagels in "Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas" says something very similar about our requirements for finding God.  Referring to the Secret Book of John, she writes that it "explains that, although God is essentially incomprehensible, the powers that reveal God to humankind include pronoia (anticipatory awareness), ennoia (internal reflection), and prognosis (foreknowledge or intuition)...." (pg.165)  In order to receive the word of God, we must be open to the possibility of such a wondrous thing.  Without that openness, God cannot find purchase in our soul.

And what about the "good soil"?  Besides a pliability, an openness to receiving God's word, what else is required?

Well, good soil is moist and dark with nutrients.  How do we acquire these things?

Perhaps the moisture comes from repentance, from not just opening our minds to God, but opening our hearts to God.  This was, after all, Jesus' first message:  "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near."  And perhaps the nutrients come from other words of wisdom.  Heschel writes about "soil", too.  "To maintain the stir and flow of insight in all thoughts, so that even in our doubts its sap should not cease to flush, means to draw from the soil of what is creative in civilization and religion, a soil which only artificial flowers can dispense with." (pg 14)  So take what has been passed down from generation to generation, sift through it for nuggets of truth -- that which resonates with your soul -- and leave the rest.

And, above all else, expose yourself to the sun/Son. 

Dear God, thank you for the wonderful words that you bring to my attention.  They fill a need within me, and they answer my concerns for others.  May I express all that you give to me in a way that loses nothing of their enriching quality.  Love always, Pam

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