Last year during the start of the pandemic, I surprised myself and everyone who knew me by starting a vegetable garden in my backyard. I joked that it was a sign of how worried I was that I was for the first time ever, remotely interested in such an effort. And while I started it in large part because I was concerned about food insecurity, that garden became such a place of solace and delight for me over the spring and summer of that difficult year.
The thing I learned at the very beginning of putting in the garden was that I had to amend the soil. If you’ve gardened you know this. You don’t want to stick your seeds into just any ground and hope they’ll grow. You want to enrich the soil, to turn the soil into the very best possible growing medium. So you add compost and manure for nutrients; perlite and gypsum for drainage and fluffiness; lime or sulfur to raise or lower the ph. You take these extras and you mix them in really well to create a growing environment in which your plants will thrive.
This parable of Jesus’ is one of his best known, and can be found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the extra canonical Gospel of Thomas. I love it because he’s using the natural world to talk about God. The particular verses from today are a second rendition of the parable in the gospel of Mark. First Jesus shares this parable out to the gathered crowds who have come to hear him preach. Then later, when it’s just he and his disciples, he breaks it down for them.
While I know it as ‘Parable of the Sower’, I learned that it’s also called ‘Parable of the Soil’. Which makes way more sense, since the parable isn’t really focused on the action of the sower. It’s focused on the way in which the soil catches that seed from the sower and helps it thrive…or not.
Of course, that’s if the seed makes it to the ground long enough to germinate. The first part of our verse, the seed is snatched up before it even has a chance. The verse identifies ‘Satan’ as doing the snatching, which for some of us may be problematic. It was for me for many years. But what if we think of Satan as not a person with horns who runs around trying to tempt us, but more of a label for anything that is against what God is for. If God is for abundant love and flourishing for all, then ‘Satan’ is anything that blocks or prevents that flourishing.
When life-giving seeds have been planted in my life, the ‘Satan’ that plucks them up are my own feelings, like cynicism; fear; hesitancy; competition. When I was first introduced to yoga, I found it annoying and boring and pretentious. I dismissed those ‘seeds’ before they could even sprout in me. The joke was on me, however, when years later I took a job working for Yoga Behind Bars, an organization that brings trauma-informed yoga to incarcerated people around the state, and I learned just how transformative those seeds could be for people. What is something that you’ve wanted to do or experience, that you can’t even bring yourself to try?
And then there are other things that I really want to try, am super eager for. The seeds are tossed and I await eagerly for things to grow, and sprout they do! But I haven’t amended the soil, haven’t created conditions in which that seed can really thrive and take root. Getting a daily spiritual practice going is an example of this for me. I so want a sacred routine in my day that reminds me of my place as a daughter of God, a child of the Universe. But I can’t quite seem to get the soil conditions right for a practice to grow deep roots. It makes me wonder…what amendments does my life need to promote root growth in the things that bring me deep joy? What, for you, are the needed amendments to your soil, or rocks that you need to remove, so that your joy can be rooted into your life?
And then there are those times when the life-giving seeds get planted, germinate, take root and try to grow…and can’t quite reach the sun. And I can’t help but think of the non-native Himalayan blackberry here. Those plants are not content just to grow in place – they throw out these huge canes that arch over land and claim it for the exclusive use of that plant. They turn a thriving ecosystem into a monocrop of thorns.
In the same way, our lives can be too covered up with thorny canes to allow for the thriving of the good, for a diversity of life experiences. Seeds from the Divine sower might make it in, but there’s no way a life-giving plant is making it out. For me, those thorny canes can be the lure of DOINGness, accomplishment. The combination of my naturally high setting for activity and engagement, plus the rewards I get for achieving in a capitalist system, makes it so that sometimes I grow my own thorny blackberry canes. These canes of ambitiousness choke out rest, downtime, play, connection, if I’m not careful. They can create a monoculture of work. What are your thorns that threaten to smother your plant, to keep it from thriving?
And sometimes the life-giving seeds that support our flourishing land on Good Soil. And here’s the thing about Good Soil that I’ve learned from PlantTok, ie. people whose TikTok accounts focus on plants. Each plant needs a slightly different soil mix. What is Good Soil for one kind of plant is absolutely not the right soil for another. And sometimes, you have to experiment a bit to find just what that plant needs to thrive.
What does Good Soil look like for you? What is the right combination of nutrients, aeration, anchoring, and ph that you need, for the seeds that the Divine wants to plant in your life, to thrive? For me, I need a healthy scoop of meaningful work. A mix in of movement and exercise and outdoors. Getting regularly fertilized through connecting the Divine Mystery. Aeration of the soil with relationships with people that I love. I invite you to join me in pondering this question in community by using the chat function. Go ahead and open the chat box, and, if you’re willing to share, type some of the components that you need for your own Good Soil mixture. I’ll give you a minute to think and respond.
Thanks for sharing those. May we each continue to tend our beds of Good Soil, creating rich and fertile earth ready to nurture the seeds of life that are ready to be planted us.