[You can watch a video recording of this Call to Worship at the end of this text. To see the entire service, click here.]
Teaching One: We Have the Seeds We Need: How Can We Create the Garden We Need?—Call to Worship and Mel Goertz’s Haiku
Some of us raised a question last Sunday about what we could do with our limited energy and resources to best serve this time in our world. I offered to host a conversation to help with that discernment, and that offer stands.
As often happens with the Holy Spirit, it turns out others are asking the same question. Our neighbor, the artist William Ransom, is part of a project that is installing works of art at the site of George Floyd’s murder. William has created a powerful, spiritual piece, and he talks about it on a video describing the project. He says he had been wondering how he could get involved in the antiracism movement, and he expresses his gratitude to have found inspiration and direction toward this way to serve. He urges us to seek our own way because “now is the time to be shouting from the rooftops at the top of our lungs.”
How can we find our own inspiration and direction, our own way to serve? How can we overcome inner and outer obstacles that keep us from shouting from the rooftops as effectively as possible?
Today’s scripture passages suggest that despite our different limitations, the way to free ourselves and find the Spirit’s guidance and power is the same for us all.
The Apostle Paul laid out the problem and solution in the 8th Chapter of his Letter to the Romans. He said, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” The Greek word translated as “flesh” is sarx. Flesh is a misleading, troublesome translation. Thomas Keating got the nuance right, saying, “Sarx is the body and psyche locked into survival at its present level of human development…. the false self, the ego bent on self-preservation at any cost.”
The way of the ego is a dead end, Paul says, but the way of the Spirit leads to fullness of life,
Jesus used the image of a sower scattering seed over the ground to describe this. Some spiritual seed lands on a path, a mental track of the ego that cannot even comprehend what the Spirit is.
Other seed lands on rocky soil which is happy to hear the Spirit’s word, but the seed finds no inner depth to root in, so as the ego faces challenges it continues its old ways and the seed wilts and dies.
Other seed lands in good soil and takes root and grows but the person also continues to let the ego grow, and its pleasures and ambitions crowd out the Spirit’s seed and it does not bear fruit.
But other seed lands in soil that has been prepared, an inner life that is deep and rich with room that has been cleared of the ego’s competing purposes and distractions. Those seeds bear fruit a hundredfold.
Jesus did not say that some people get seeds and some do not. We are born with the Spirit of life in us. We have seeds that want to bear fruit, things we could contribute to the well-being of the world from a simple smile or act of kindness to making food or making music or teaching or running a business or running for office.
We have the seeds we need in order to bear fruit, but what we often lack is the cultivated garden that we need—the deep, rich, weeded inner soil. The ego and the culture built by the human ego conspire against it, so how can we make it happen?
Three words from our Christian spiritual tradition serve as the how-to guide for making gardens of our lives. They are the Biblical Greek words, kensosis, metanoia and agape.
Kenosis means to empty ourselves of the ego’s concerns to the extent we can. We go into the garden space and pull the weeds up by the roots. We learn how to practice centering prayer or meditation, heartfulness or mindfulness. We practice surrendering our will and our life to God’s higher power.
It takes time, intention and effort to do kenosis, to create a plot of ground in our lives that is free of our ego’s obsessions, but when we do, metanoia flows naturally out of it.
Metanoia means to grow beyond where our heart, mind and spirit are now. As Thomas Keating put it, we move beyond the ego “locked into…its present level of human development.” We grow through metanoia to have the heart and mind of Christ.
Metanoia wants to happen in us the way the germ of a seed underground wants to break out of its shell and find its way up through the darkness and grit to the wider world in the light. We can learn to work with the process of metanoia, we can read about it, study the lives of those who have undergone it, find teachers and fellow gardeners to help us cultivate it, but ultimately it is a matter of letting the Spirit do its work in and through us.
If we prepare our soil through kenosis and let the Spirit’s seeds grow through metanoia, the fruit that they will bear will be agape.
Agape is the kind of love we see in God and Jesus and the most unselfish, generous-hearted, compassionate people we know. Agape is the love that makes neighbors go out of their way to help neighbors, or makes Black Lives Matter or Climate protesters put their lives on the line. Agape is what makes artists create and then overcome fear and self-doubt to share their creations.
Agape is the love that moves anyone who finds seeds of creativity or service within them and follows their heart’s longing to bring them to fruition.
Mel Goertz does that before our eyes every week with her haiku. Her poem today looks at the world with love and sees it looking back at her with the same love. Her poem is about the garden of the Spirit that our lives can be, and in fact her poem is such a garden. Here are Mel’s words:
I swear that daisy looked at me
with bright yellow eye
and white petals.
Let us worship together continuing on with this service.