Sunday Morning ~ The Seed
Ndidyeretu, chire anasowa mbeu. ~ The one who ate all there was discovered the bush had no seeds.
~ Chewa Proverb
October 6, 2019
I usually get up early on Sunday and write a draft of this before I go to mass. Today I woke early but fell back into a deep sleep with dreams so vivid that waking up was confusing. I’d overslept by a lot. I dashed to the garden to let the chickens out and getting distracted as I always do, stopped to pick a lonely pepper on the plant growing since May. One lovely, mid-sized pepper was the only resident on the plant I lovingly tended. One pepper! I spent a frustrating summer watching one blossom after another fall off and die even though the plant looked healthy. I’d given it the sunniest spot, and though I’d pictured myself picking dozens of peppers, only one lived. This morning I gave up on getting anymore, picked that solitary pepper, and put it in the bowl of random, partnerless vegetables on my counter. I looked at it and wondered what to do with it? Something special? Make a salsa so it can be spread out among a few meals? Or would it’s specialness get lost with that? Maybe I should stuff it and make it a whole meal, but having no one to share it with seemed sad. Oh hell, I thought, maybe I’ll just eat the thing right now, raw and naked while it’s still as fresh as possible. But I was late for church and ran out thinking about that pepper as a metaphor for my life. I’ve only got one. What to do with it? Solitary and healthy with resources and energy I feel a responsibility to use it wisely. As usual, I was late for mass. I blamed the pepper. I have a different excuse every week.
My usual spot was open and I slid into the pew just before the first reading and I settled into the comfort of the familiar ritual: the readings, the responses, the gospel, the sermon. I often don’t listen to the sermon. My mind wanders and my list of things to do replays a loop especially if the delivery is dry. When George was coming to church with me I was always worried the sermon would be something open to criticism. I felt the need to defend the priest even if I agreed with George that the message was less than inspiring. But then I’d think, who cares? No one listens to the sermon anyway. It’s all about the ritual. Today though, the priest hit it square. My current state of limbo made me spongy for soaking up the message. I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about how I can make a difference or have some kind of lasting influence. I’m a bit stuck trying to transform lofty goals into achievable steps and figure out what the first step actually is. Today’s story about the mustard seed, that tiniest of seeds which grows into the largest herb (or tree, or other large vegetation that feeds the world depending on whether you like Matthew, Mark, or Luke) seemed especially poignant and obvious. We can all relate to the metaphor but it struck me hard today and, judging from the conversation at coffee hour, others as well. The priest spoke from the heart and his authenticity was refreshing. He wasn’t preachy. I loved that. He didn’t need to describe our current state of scandalous, racist, corrupt government or national shame, but the message was as clear as if he’d spray painted it on his vestments. Maybe others heard it differently; I know we can have personal interpretations. But for me focusing on the tiniest seed was brilliant, though I got distracted a bit with wondering if mustard seeds were really smaller than say, cabbage? Actually as I write this it sounds corny as hell, but there was a shiny moment when I thought it was the most profound thing I’d ever heard. Like I said, I was yearning for a sign, and my mustard crop is always the most reliable of anything I plant. I wondered if I was stretching it too much.
Graham Nash gave a concert in Bar Harbor this week. He was my coming-of-age celebrity crush and I always credited him with saving the world with those protest songs. He sang in our little town, looking pretty darn good, reminding us to do something and have hope. Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that you can bring? We can save the world, re-arrange the world, it’s dying to get better. I thought the chance to see and hear him sing those words was long gone but there I was singing along with the rest of the audience, and I felt the same way I did after church today–– there’s a lot of us and we can change the world. But then I talked with a friend who told me she’d never heard of Graham Nash and I was shocked! “Really? Chicago? Teach Your Children?” I asked, horrified. “Nope, never heard of them.” she said without embarrassment. And I thought, good God, what kind of work is ahead of us?
…Now it is Monday. I left this to attend the memorial service of a friend who was killed in a car accident. Like me, he’d been a Peace Corps volunteer right out of college. He was a bit older and I learned yesterday that Peace Corps saved him from fighting a war he didn’t believe in. He spent four years in Africa in the 60’s as a volunteer, came back and worked in many different capacities as well as a boat mechanic here on the island. He was my son’s baseball coach. He was a lover of music. He played the violin and I’d often see him at concerts in town. He came to many of the presentations I gave and we often talked about life and work in Africa. He was recently back from working with Doctor’s Without Borders in Central African Republic and two weeks before he died we had a long philosophical discussion about that organization. On August 13, I was driving back from the beach with the grandkids when we saw a firetruck blocking the road. In any other situation I would have eagerly exclaimed to James, “Look! A firetruck!” But I knew at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon in the summer, this was not good. We got directed to a detour and as I turned I could see a demolished car near the woods. I had a sinking realization that any occupant of that car was most likely dead. I read the next morning that it was Ted, hit head on in his little old economical car. His memorial yesterday was beautiful with music and poetry and fabulous food. Many of his photographs of Africa were on display, stunning beauty both of the landscape and the people. I left there sad and confused.
I went to my French group, then to a concert and got home late thinking I would continue writing. But everything I put down was crap. I was trying to be philosophical and it sounded pandering and pathetic, painful words my son once used to describe my writing. I thought he was right. I reread what I wrote about the priest’s sermon yesterday and realized I really hadn’t said much about it. How much of it did I really remember? The metaphor of sowing a tiny seed and believing something great would come out of it was what I heard, and thought, Right! Start with that! How obvious! But I’m not sure now that’s what he said. I thought of how messages get interpreted. I might consider something inspiring and think everyone must see it the same way. Of course this isn’t true. God knows this has been the start of many an argument I’ve had with others. I realize a lot depends on what I want to hear and what I want to be true. I think now of how many roads this has taken me down and how lucky I am that most of them have led somewhere positive.
Love to all,