I want to talk about how we might read, respond to, pray with the scriptures; as in today’s lessons on in the Daily Office, because I think that, in the business of getting older, we can encounter the Bible, differently as we change, mature, go on living.
I remember hearing the parable of the sower and the seeds when I was in my twenties and it made me want to start rearranging my life: getting rid of the thorny places, clearing out the rocks, moving the path so as to find the good ground and ensure a rich harvest. I was going to try to do it all!
When I heard the parable in my thirties it was a bit different. Although I knew more about where the rocky places and the rich grounds, my strong points and weak points, were; I no longer believed that I had to make such drastic changes. As one California writer put it; “maturity happens when you begin to accept yourself, whether you want to or not!” And even though there were certain places where I wasn't too good, there were other places where I wasn't too bad. Ask me to write a poem and I might do a great job. Ask me to total up a list of figures and prepare for a major fiscal disaster. But like St. Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God,” and I can offer it all to God to do with as God wills. I can simply be the whole ground watching and waiting for the seed coming to bloom where God wills and giving thanks that this is so.
So now that I'm almost to my seventies I live with a different set of expectations, a different time schedule. The truth is this is as good as it gets from here on out, and there is a kind of grace in that, that this moment might be a special kind of present, something that has never been before and may never come again; precious in its uniqueness and distinction. And this gift of the present moment, the present that comes with every moment, can open a different way of reading the Bible.
It is called Lectio Divina, it comes from the ancient traditions of the church, was out of favour for the last few hundred years (when we were all so scientific) and is getting popular again. It has four parts. First, you read the lesson and second you meditate, let it linger in your mind and in your memory and in your heart. Third, after you have a sense of what part of the reading speaks to you as a particular gift from God, you share your prayer with God, and then finally in the Fourth part you rest with God in silent contemplation and renewal.
So that when I read the parable of the sower and the seeds this week I stopped when Jesus said, “A sower went out to sow.” And I remembered all the green growing times in my life: a hot summer morning in my parents backyard in Sacramento California when I could almost hear the grass grow; a late spring morning when I was a teenager and my father borrowed a rotary hoe to make a vegetable garden which provided him with a place for healing after a lengthy illness; one autumn in my twenties when I planted stock and snapdragons, forgot them over the winter and was surprised when they rose up in the spring blooming bright and smelling strong as the sun came back following a cold and rainy winter.
And as my meditation blooms I recall the writings of Thomas Merton who wrote this in his book, “New Seeds of Contemplation.”
"Every moment and every event of every person's life on earth plants something in their soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of humankind…. in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love”
And in that freedom, that graceful spontaneous moment, I begin to pray that God use my good ground, whatever ground God wishes, so that, as Merton writes:
“these seeds would take root in my liberty, and… His will would grow from my freedom, [so that] I would become the love that he is and my harvest would be his glory and my own glory.”
But that can also be difficult because I often meet that part of me which knows it takes some time to plant a seed, for graceful growth, for flower and bloom, and wants an easier, faster way.
My living room windows look east to an empty lawn the Cathedral shares with the College and sometimes I wake before dawn and light three candles, drink my coffee and read my iPad Bible while sitting in the dark and waiting for the sun to rise. It can be wonderful, ’though there are many times when I want to rush it, turn on the lights, get the day going! But when I sit quietly with God, as when you sit quietly with a friend, then sometimes the sun comes up before I know it and the empty field turns green with what seems like newborn grass giving God glory, and It is the same with us: as Merton writes:
“The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God's will, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity…. And I would grow together with thousands and millions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase, loaded with wheat.”
It’s not always like that. In fact, it’s not usually like that. But often enough when I sit in silence, read scripture simply, meditate, pray, and recall who and whose I am; God seems to give the growth, those seeds ripen, and I find myself refreshed, renewed, maybe even redeemed in a new way that does me good, and I commend it to you.