Sowing and Reaping

We have been on a rollercoaster of Indiana weather. We had an almost 60-degree day early in the week and that followed 8 inches of snow that had arrived just a few days before that. And almost before we got time to enjoy it, the warm and sunny day was followed by plummeting temperatures, freezing rain, and more snow. Back down to single digit windchills, a breezy 20-degree day yesterday, and today, they’re forecasting 50 for a high.

Those of us who have lived in this part of the country for a while have gotten used to that element of surprise. I’m sure you know the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Indiana, just wait a few minutes—it will change!” On warm days, we are eager to get outside, to begin clearing the gardens for the coming season. On snowy cold days, we burrow inside under blankets and try to find the patience to ride out the frigid weather. Not without some grumbling. No matter what Puxatawney Phil says, the warm weather never comes fast—or steadily–enough.

I have happy memories, though, of the way my mom would cope with these up-and-down, unplannable weeks between Groundhog’s Day and Easter, when the early daffodils usually appeared. She poured over dozens of seed catalogs that came in the mail, sometimes two or three a day. They usually started arriving right after Christmas, and so by the time the February doldrums set in, she had quite a stack in the basket by the fireplace. On rainy or snowy winter afternoons, she’d sit at the table by the window with a cup of coffee and a notepad, studying the pages for inspiring ideas, good deals, and new challenges. She would dream—and begin to plan—the harvest she envisioned. She ordered seeds and plants and sketched garden diagrams, doing her the planning work within, preparing for beauty, without.

And that’s a good use of our time, when we’re feeling stuck in any capacity–perhaps curtailed by illness, reined in by circumstance, obstacles in the way of what we want to do. Even though we yearn for a better day, to be free of what’s limiting us, spending time turned inward, planting in our hearts and minds the outcome we’d like to have is an important first step toward creating it.

Now is a good time for dreaming, for taking stock, for thinking of what we want to do when the world around us softens and time feels right for creative efforts. How will we use our imaginations this year? And not just in the garden or around the house. But what kinds of things would we like to grow in our lives—and in our world?

We know that sowing and reaping is a real pattern in the natural world all around us. It plays out, reliably, year after year, as consistent as the law of gravity and the well-founded belief that the sun will come up tomorrow. There’s right order to Life’s law of growth: We aren’t going to plant green bean seeds and get watermelons; we won’t dig a hole for a peach tree and get apples down the road. There is a right order, a rhythm, an intelligent sequence to things as they grow. It’s part of the fabric of creation, the essential structure for growth and flourishing. We know that given some kind of suitable conditions, whatever we sow will bring some sort of result. The question is, what do we sow? And what do we hope to reap?

Our Old Testament reading for today is a single verse from Hosea chapter 10. Hosea’s book is the first of the Minor Prophets, and he was believed to have lived eight centuries before the birth of Christ. Hosea’s persistent and harrowing message to the children of Israel charged them with unfaithfulness and a complete lack of care to understand God’s ways or grow closer in relationship. Toward the end of the book, however, God’s message softens, and the accusations are replaced with promise, as Hosea describes a day when God’s children will turn toward Him in their hearts and blessing will return to their lives. This is Hosea 10:12:

“Sow righteousness for yourselves,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.”

In Richard Foster’s commentary here, he writes, “In this chapter the harvest of divine judgment is announced, but even in this late hour a call is given to start over with the chance for a new planting of righteousness. Yet such reformation must start with hard plowing that goes deep and breaks up the hardened crusts of habit and heart. This late offer of divine grace will entail a breaking, not an escape from it.”

That’s an interesting phrase, “break up the hardened crusts of habit and heart.” When we in our own lives decide to make a positive change—maybe we want to start a healthier habit or forgive someone for something that happened long ago—there is more work involved than simply deciding we are going to make a change. A change of heart, a change of habit involves doing something tangible to prepare the soil. We need to do the hard work of seeing things as they are, assessing the work we need to do, taking responsibility for our part in it—and then we need to act as we are led. Sometimes it’s hard to look inside and be honest with ourselves, but Christ’s Light helps us bit by bit, providing the grace and support we need for deeper understanding and self-compassion. It’s a work in the soil we really need to do if what we want are good growing results.

I love the way Mary Oliver talks about this in her book, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings. She says,

“The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.”

Isn’t that lovely? And so true. The patterns of our lives do say something about who we are, what we value, and sometimes what we feel constrained by. We can see by the way we spend our time what we’re planting in our lives. I remember reading once, many years ago, “If you want to see what a thought looks like, look around.” The writer was saying we create outwardly a mirror of the world we inhabit inwardly. We are sowing and reaping all the time without even realizing it.

But my favorite part of this thought of Mary Oliver’s is this: “Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.”

There is so much grace in that idea! We often judge ourselves harshly when we don’t live up to our own expectations, whatever those might be, realistic or not. Maybe we didn’t get enough done. Or we let someone down. Or we did something we said we’d never do. We forgot our New Year’s Resolution—again. Our struggle shines a light on a dream that is still in a stage of becoming. We are on our way, through a season of growth, but we’re just not there yet. That’s the human condition in a nutshell.

Our New Testament reading today comes from the book of Galatians. Paul wrote this letter initially because he was concerned about the many contradictory teachings making their way to this small new gathering of believers. He wrote to help them discern the true from the false, so they could know they were sowing seeds of faith, for lives that would blossom with the teachings and spirit of Jesus.

Paul begins by reminding them that Christ has set them free to become the people God had created them to be, but then warns them not to get caught up in self-indulgence but to use their freedom to serve each other in love. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command,” Paul wrote, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Paul wants to help them recognize actions that are consistent with the work of Spirit and warns them away from behaviors that divide and deceive and arouse anger and ugliness. In what I think is the most helpful sentence of this passage, Paul names the specific qualities that will blossom among them when they the sow seeds of God’s love. It’s obvious, he says. When seeds of a seeking faith are planted in our lives, the result is

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Forbearance
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

The outcome, the blossoming is sure, a promise from the pattern life God planted in us all. Like watching for pears to grow on a pear tree or tulips to blossom from a tulip bulb, these qualities arise naturally when we live with hearts turned toward God. It cannot be otherwise.

I read something this week from a Sufi teacher I particularly like. His name was Hazrat Inayat Khan and he lived in the early 1900s. His ideas offered an interesting take on the idea of sowing and reaping:

“Every thing and being on the surface of existence seem separate from one another, but in every plane beneath the surface they approach nearer to each other, and in the innermost plane they all become one. Every disturbance therefore, caused to the peace of the smallest part of existence on the surface inwardly affects the soul. Thus any thought, speech or action that disturbs the peace is wrong, evil, and a sin; if it brings about peace it is right, good, and a virtue. Life being like a dome, its nature is also dome-like. Disturbance of the slightest part of life disturbs the whole and returns as a curse upon the person who caused it; any peace produced on the surface comforts the whole, and thence returns as peace to the producer.”

Isn’t that interesting? Sowing and reaping in real time. Whatever brings peace, whatever comforts others, brings about the fruits of the Spirit Paul named in his letter to the Galatians. What disturbs the peace or brings pain to another sows seeds that bring disharmony, conflict, and chaos into the experience of the one causing it.

I was curious to see what this looked like in my own life so in my journal I drew a little picture of a garden plot with a dome over it (like the sky) and then through the day I asked myself “What seeds am I planting?” I wrote into the space beneath the dome words that had something to do with my experiences that day. For example, one day included, humor, service, listening, understanding. Another day had gentleness, openness, and respect. And they weren’t all good seeds. I also had rushing and impatient and one irritable. But it was an interesting exercise that reminded me that my choices during the day were planting something in the soil of my experience. It made me want to do lots of loving things—on purpose.

French Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet said in the late 1700s:

 “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

This points out how important it is to Friends that we do our best, in the simplest of things, to live the testimonies that mean so much to us. We believe sacramental living is possible, that our words and actions, thoughts and efforts can be offered to others in a spirit of peace and worship. In truth, everything we create and do has the potential to bring peace and comfort, harmony and beauty to the world around us if we so choose. So what do we hope to reap—in the next hour, the next day, the next season of our lives? We can pay attention and do a little dreaming as these last rollercoaster weeks of winter move on by. What we plan for is up to each of us—maybe a happy home, a harmonious meeting, a more civil society. We can picture people who feel the stirring of kindness in their hearts, citizens who trust one another, people healthy and whole. All seeds worth sowing, with thoughts, words, and actions that trust and praise and continue to turn toward our loving God.


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