Every so often there is an overlap between the cycle of scripture readings that we hear at our Sunday Eucharist and those that we hear at our Weekday Eucharist. During this year we hear Matthew’s Gospel at both Eucharists, though the sections chosen aren’t synchronised. The scriptural ground covered can at once feel consolingly familiar and a little disconcerting as you try to work out when you last heard the text.
Some portions of scripture have become so familiar to my ears that I almost don’t hear them. The Parable of the Sower is one such text. (We heard it on the 16th Sunday and on Wednesday and Friday of Weekday cycle of Week 16) I have to admit to a little impatience at being given an ‘explanation’ of the parable in the biblical text. By temperament I like space to wonder and time to sift through various possibilities before I come to an understanding.
Because familiarity has dulled my senses a little for this text, I find I need a little extra help to unlock the meaning. Sometimes this help comes in the form of a commentary or a piece of poetry. I’ve been greatly helped by Malcolm Guite’s book of poetry, Parable and Paradox. In his sonnet The Sower he writes these lines:
How hard to hear the things I think I know,
To peel aside the thin familiar film
That wraps and seals your secret just below
It takes time and patience for me to ‘peel aside the thin familiar film’, but when I do, it’s always worth the effort. This year I found that my thoughts stayed around just one word: ‘soil’. I took some time to consider the ‘soil’ of my life. In Benedictine monastic life there’s a stress on ‘this place, these people’. We call this stability. Some of the elements of the ‘soil of my life’ are set by my choice of monastic life and so there is s sense in which growing conditions should be good. And yet there is one significant variable and that’s my own disposition. My own disposition makes all the difference as to whether or not the seed will take root and grow. Often growth is silent, imperceptible.
As I reflected, I remember these lines from Joan Pul’s book, Every Bush is Burning :
The field in which we search is the space and time of your life and mine. And we are about the rhythm of planting and sowing, of ploughing under and of reaping. That process is sacred. The hope is always there that with the seed and and its silent growing, with the ploughing and its careful upturning, with the reaping and its multiple fruits, the treasure will slowly be revealed.
Sometimes the labour is hard and you can feel as if the rhythm of daily life takes all your energy and little progress has been made. It’s not always easy to trust that ‘treasure will slowly be revealed.’ We can sometimes go in search of the sacred as we sift through the soil of our lives and forget that that process of sifting is itself sacred.
Built into the monastic way of life there are practices and rhythms that are intended to encourage growth of all kinds. Poet and priest, Malcolm Guite, captures this beautifully in his sonnet entitled A Sonnet St Benedict:
You sought to start a simple school of prayer,
A modest, gentle, moderate attempt,
With nothing made too harsh or hard to bear,
No treating or retreating with contempt,
A little rule, a small obedience
That sets aside, and tills the chosen ground,
Fruitful humility, chosen innocence,
A binding by which freedom might be found
‘Tilling the chosen’ ground is a daily task not just for monastics, but for anyone who wants to follow Christ more closely.