To Weed or Not to Weed

As I write this I could instead be profitably weeding my front yard—which has no grass, lots of English ivy, pretty trees, flowers in their season, and an infinite amount of weeds.

In chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells two parables about weeds.  In the first, there is a sower whose seed lands on different kinds of soil.  One kind has thorns, which choke the new plants when they begin to grow, so they never produce.  The other parable tells about a wheat field sowed with good seeds but when everyone is asleep the enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat.  The surprising injunction is to let both of them grow together until harvest time.

Sometimes weeding is helpful and sometimes it is not.  To ignore injustice is to let conditions fester that choke out the life or Life in the individuals or groups to whom injustice is done, and also in those in whose name the wrongs are done.  People’s lives may be cut short because of the unjust conditions they face—hunger and malnutrition, exposure to high levels of pollution in order to produce the products wanted by those whose clean air is protected, being subject to gang violence because they can’t see better alternatives, enduring sex trafficking for others’ greed and lust.  With such conditions where is the compassion to which Jesus witnessed?  How can one be loving one’s neighbor as oneself?

We all have faults, but to become solely focused on removing the weeds, in ourselves or others, can result in perfectionism and losing sight of God.  We may forget who indeed is God, and also forget God’s love for us just as we are.  We judge, we ruminate on negative things, we lose sight of life and the abundance of gifts that we have been given.  A lack of humility and too much self-righteousness might prosper, because we don’t always know what are truly the weeds.  Nor do we always know how to pull them up without damage to the wheat.  To weed or not to weed is a question that needs prayerful discernment.

Queries:

What are the weeds in your life?

How do you listen to and care about others who have different values from yours?

Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For further reflection:

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Advertisements

Image of God

I’ve been invited to give the morning Bible study at the summer sessions of our gathered religious body, which Quakers call Yearly Meeting.  There aren’t too many of us and they are all friends, so I shouldn’t worry about the opportunity.  I also believe that we have divine guidance available to us in a way that is discernible, and on good days I believe I have been led.  Yet I find myself all too often focused not on God’s love and care but on fears of my inadequacy.

What we believe (or don’t believe) about God and how we function in relation to God can be different.  A friend believed in God as loving, forgiving, and bringing us into peace.  But when invited to draw an image of God in relation to some concerns he was experiencing, he drew a person with a monkey on his shoulder dangling a key just out of reach.  This was a “God” who held the secret to peace but wasn’t willing to share it.  Instead “God” used the key to taunt him and make him frustrated.

What we believe (or don’t believe) certainly impacts us.  Another friend believes she is responsible to bring justice wherever she can.  She doesn’t believe in a God who acts in the world.  If there were such a God, she argues, there wouldn’t be so much pain and suffering.  So she works very diligently at doing good.

These limiting images of the Limitless—of which we are aware or not—leave us less able to see and less able to know the joy and love of God.  Being able to recognize these often-hidden images from which we function is a step toward the healing of our blindness.

Queries:

With what image of God did you grow up?  How has that changed (or not)?  What might blind you to a more life-giving image?

What would it take for your heart and mind to be prepared for an encounter with the limitless God?

Prayer:

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge” (Psalm 16:1)

For further reflection:

“Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel!’  And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am; you called me.’  ‘My son,’ Eli said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down.’  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord:  The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”  (See I Samuel 3: 1-10.)

“God gazed down from heaven upon all humanity/ to see whether there existed a person of understanding, / one who was searching for truth” (See Psalm 14).  [For this translation, see Pamela Greenberg, The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation.]

The Path

I grew up with a hunger for God, a love of Jesus, whether I really understood that or not.  Early on it was manifested in being drawn to Bible stories and other stories of people of faith.  Those stories were somewhat enfleshed by the weekly experience of having people invited to “give their lives to Christ” and join the church.  I myself made that decision by age ten.

What I didn’t hear much about then was that I was stepping on a path that would give me a chance to grow, change, and become closer to God, enriching my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  But when the ups and downs of my faith and life set me in Quakerism as a young woman, I was inspired by older Friends, especially women, who seemed to glow.  They had something that inwardly I yearned for.   Their witness invited me to take hold of a path, a way of life—familiar, I now know, in Quakerism and in Christianity—that I then scarcely knew consciously.

This path is not like a trail that one can knowingly follow, nor is it about achieving a destination or status.  It does involve making a life-choice, and then is more about surrendering or letting go in faith. Each one’s journey is different. Trusting and doubting and wondering, seeking and finding and losing, suffering and knowing joy, making wrong turns and finding a way provided when there is no way—all are included.  It’s an ascent that involves deepening.

Friends’ directions for following this path have been to live up to the Light that you have and more will be granted you.  It calls for holding onto a tradition—what others have come to know in the past and have left a witness to—while at the same time living in the present with what you know and experience.

Queries:

What kind of life-choice have you made?

How do you, or can you, reject harmful or unbelievable notions you learned in your past religious experience while also staying open to learning some fresh way to understand the rejected concepts?

Prayer:

Pray the Lord’s prayer (the Our Father), paying attention to what words are meaningful to you and what ones give you trouble.  Then choose one word or phrase to hold in the Light, praying to be touched or taught in a fresh or deeper way through that word or phrase.

For further reflection:

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me. . . . (See Psalm 25: 4-5).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”  (Hebrews 12: 1).

The Desert

On a recent trip I drove through desert in Nevada and southern California, including the Mojave Desert.  An unfamiliar landscape, it appeared dry and barren, especially compared to the lush green of an eastern spring in which there has been plenty of rain.  Disconcerting and maybe even dull at first, this vast space of flat land surrounded by high and rugged mountains, with undulating sands in some areas and big boulders in others, gradually revealed its beauty. Each cactus, shrub, or patch of grass had its own place and was easily appreciated one bit at a time—a stark contrast with North Carolina weeds, grass, flowers, shrubs, and trees all in the same area.

After the time in the desert it occurs to me that my life at home is more like the eastern landscape in which I live, with an abundance of activities, relationships, responsibilities, and riches. So many that I can easily go from one thing to the next to the next, with no space in between.  What would life look like with the spaciousness of the desert?

While there I did one thing at a time.  I was truly present in the moment.  I wasn’t overwhelmed with stimuli.  I had time to absorb each new thing.  At the same time there is in the desert the vastness, openness, and vulnerability that one experiences—with no close boundaries and no place to hide.  And the uncertainty about where, if anywhere, there might be life-giving water, and with nothing but sun and stars to give one direction.

These experiences seem like invitations—to value and not fear emptiness, to take time to absorb the gifts of the day, to find opportunities to let go the busyness and jumble of ordinary life, to find spaciousness.  And with the invitations come the challenges of vulnerability, uncertainty about where to find the basics of life, and the need for a guide.

Queries:

What kind of external, physical landscape speaks most to your soul?  What does that tell you?

What invitations are you hearing?  Are you in touch with your Guide?

Prayer:

Practice a prayer of letting go, being with God in spaciousness.  You may want to use a mantra (a phrase, perhaps from scripture) to repeat, or you may use a sacred word symbolizing your intent to be open to the divine. When you notice yourself thinking, simply let go and return to repeating that word.

For further reflection:

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. . . (Isaiah 43:19).

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty’” (see John 4: 1-42).