Ignatian Imagination Prayer: Luke 1:39-55

The Ignatian Imagination Prayer is a sensory, engaging spiritual practice that encourages one’s imagination to run free with the Spirit through scripture. Teresa A. Blythe writes in her book, 50 Ways to Pray, that the intent of this practice is “to imagine that you are physically present” in a particular scripture, “and to allow that scene to become a prayer for you.” (p 100)

Especially for passages that we know (or think we know) well, this spiritual exercise invites us to look, listen, and feel again. To be open to an awareness of words and emotions we hadn’t noticed before. To let the scripture speak to us in our present experience.

This practice can be used by individuals or in a group. To use it on your own, simply read slowly through the passage and the questions, taking the time you want to enter into each portion. Allow about twenty minutes to go through the following scripture. Jot down your experience in a journal, if you like, and any insights that dwelling in the word brought you.

For use in a group, read through the passage and questions, allowing more time than you think might be necessary. (As one who has received guided meditation before, I often feel rushed in my imaginings!) You may want to invite shared reflection at the end. A pdf version of this reflection is available here.

Prayer of preparation

Spirit of New Life, I/we ask for grace:
that all my/our intentions, my/our actions, and my/our imaginings
will be used for the service and praise of the Divine. Amen. 

Ignatian Imagination Prayer

Within a few days [of the angel Gabriel’s visit to her], Mary set out and hurried to the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

  • Take a moment to imagine yourself in this scene, not necessarily taking on the character of Mary or Elizabeth (or Zechariah). Simply be an observer for now. 
  • What do you notice about Mary as she hurries down the roads of Judah? Does her face tell you anything about how she’s feeling? 
  • What time of year is it in in Judah? What do you smell?
  • What does Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house look like? As Mary nears the house, when does she call out to Elizabeth? What does she say? Where is Elizabeth when she hears Mary call her name?

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 

  • In your mind’s eye, notice how Mary and Elizabeth meet face-to-face.
  • What does it look like as the Holy Spirit settles on Elizabeth? Is there a visible change, or do you feel a shift in your surroundings? 
  • Imagine Mary notices you, and calls out to you, too, to join their delighted embrace. Does anything move in you—does your heart beat quicker or your stomach do little flip flops? Stay there, in the scene, as a full participant in the story.

In a loud voice, Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favored, that the mother of the Messiah should come to me? The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished.”

  • What is the energy like in the room as Elizabeth shouts this blessing? After her long journey, how does Mary react to Elizabeth’s words? Does anyone or anything else in the area also join the scene, drawn in by Elizabeth’s excitement?
  • Do you eagerly join in the blessing, or do you hold back? 

Mary said:
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me
and holy is your Name.

  • What does Mary’s song sound like? Is it in a major key or minor key; a rapid tempo or meandering pace? Does she start out tentatively or boldly? How is she moving her body? 
  • Do you feel an impulse to sing or sway along? What is Elizabeth doing?

You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.

  • What emotions cross Mary’s face as she describes God’s actions? Are there hints of rage, hope, frustration, or joy? How does the tune and volume of her singing shift in these stanzas?
  • As you hear her revolutionary words, sung there in your presence, do you feel nervous…or comforted?  

You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy—
the promise you made to our ancestors—
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”

  • As Mary’s song ends, survey the scene again. Look all around you. What do you notice? Has anything changed between Mary’s arrival and now? 
  • Notice your body in the scene—emotions, sensations, tension.
  • What do Elizabeth and Mary do following this greeting, blessing, and song?
  • Let your full imagination run free now. Allow the scene to change in any way you feel inspired. Linger and interact with the characters there.  What are you doing? Do you go off to tell someone about your experience? How do you describe what happened?

Either in a journal or in a group discussion, take time to reflect on the experience. What does it mean to make ready for the birth of the Divine within us? Consider how Mary and Elizabeth prepared.

What does this mean to you? What part of the story helps you lean into a welcoming spirit? What part of the story disturbs you most? What insight does this imaginative exercise provide?

Close by offering a prayer of thanksgiving to God or pray a version of the Prayer Jesus Taught.


Scripture from The Inclusive Bible translation.

Image: Everett, Trey. Blessed Is She, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57818 [retrieved December 20, 2021]. Original source: www.treyeverettcreates.com.

Call to Worship: All Saints & All Souls

A call to worship for All Saints / All Souls 2021. Inspired, in part, by lectionary texts of Psalm 24 and Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9.

The earth and everything on it—
the world and all who live in it—
belong to the Ancient One.

Fellow pilgrims and beloved friends—
new neighbors and old foes—
here are held in the hand of God.

All saints and all souls and all sinners—
their stories and their lives, our memories and our grief—
are pieced together by the Quilter of Life.

Ones who belong,
Ones who are held,
Ones who pieced together,
We enter with hope this holy place of worship.

Autumn Equinox

In our backyard, a gorgeous, expansive oak hovers with a regal grandeur, providing shade and scurrying space for the squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, and goldfinches. The last few weeks, the oak has been dropping thousands of acorns, which plummet to the earth with a powerful velocity. (One does not want to be sitting under her branches when there is any wind, lest an acorn drops with forceful precision on an exposed head…) It’s clear that autumn is arriving as the boughs sigh with relief as they lighten with each released acorn.

Tomorrow marks the autumn equinox here in the northern hemisphere of Planet Earth. In Madison, the weather has subtly shifted with the days still (mostly) bright and warm, and the nights cool and breezy. In this threshold between seasons, the earth reminds me to prepare for the winter ahead. The annuals and perennials alike are shifting their focus, nudging me, too, to let go of those things that were wonderful for a season, but now need to be put to rest…perhaps until next spring, or perhaps for good.

O Spirit of Change,
prepare my heart for the winter ahead,
but not before I have celebrated the fruit of summer.
In this Great Transition Time,
as the earth continues in its path,
may I sense, like the Mother Oak,
a lightening in my body,
as the gifts of the long summer days
drop to their earthen womb below.
Amen.

Prayer of Remembrance

For a Year of Distanced Worship

Today at Madison Mennonite, we round out a full year of worshipping distanced–a sobering, disappointing, and often discouraging reality…while also a testament to the Spirit’s faithfulness in all circumstances.

We are taking some time today and in our Koinonia Groups next week to hold the tension, grief, and anxiety of the last year. It feels important–necessary, even–to mourn the pain that the pandemic has caused: bodily, relational, emotional, economic, spiritual pain.

Then there are the divisions that have emerged or grown more obvious: cracks within familial relationships, extreme othering within political discourse, racial inequity.

Yet I think it’s important, as the church, to recognize that some of the divisions, like physical distancing, have emerged for the sake of community and the love of neighbor.  This purposeful distancing is counter-intuitive for Christ-followers, and yet it aligns with the call to think bigger, beyond ourselves, from what’s good for a few to what’s good for the collective.

These are complicated, contradicting, and disorienting realities.  I am hoping that our world grows a little gentler this week, as we hold space for ourselves and for one another. So many are dealing with pandemic-inflicted wounds that are still tender to the touch. I pray for God’s grace to abound.

A Congregational Prayer of Remembrance
Eternal Presence,
This has been a strange year.
Disorienting and isolating for some, 
liberating and full of opportunity for others,
our experiences are disparate.

As we look back on this year, O God,
help us be gentle with ourselves and with one another.
Draw us together in curiosity and compassion.
Unite us in our common commitments,
to loving our neighbors,
extending the tables piled high with grace,
as we continue to seek your reign in our midst.

We give you thanks, Abiding Spirit,
for journeying with us,
renewing our spirits
through the generosity of this Beloved Community.
In Christ’s holy name we pray. Amen.

Psalm 125 in Post-Modern Madison

An Advent Prayer for God’s Intervention

Those who trust in the Eternal One
are like the Wisconsin River,
confident in their current,
but consistent and insistent.

As the hills of the Driftless area stand steady in their rolling ridges,
so the Divine supports her people,
from this time on and evermore.

For the reach of invasive injustice will be too short
to wrestle and uproot the native rhizomes of shalom,
so that the native rhizomes will not be beguiled,
becoming aggressive and violently-minded.

Reward Goodness and Truth, O Holy One,
to those who seek goodness and truth,
and to those who are overlooked by earthly powers.

But those who seek to dominate and oppress,
the Divine Name will lead out
in the shackles they constructed for others.

Peace be upon Turtle Island!

[A post-modern postscript:
And those who vacillate
between seeking goodness and seeking to dominate,
Eternal One, redirect with Mercy.]

Originally published in the 2020 Advent Devotional by Madison and Milwaukee Mennonite Churches.

Collect: Psalm 85

A prayer for the second Sunday of Advent, Year B, based on the lectionary text of Psalm 85:1-2,8-13.

O Steadfast Love,
you are the source of goodness and grace,
and you delight in the sweet embrace
of righteousness and shalom.
Speak your peace to us, your people,
that our faithfulness might be restored;
through Christ we pray,
Amen.

A Prayer for Peace and Nonviolence

Author of Life, Painbearer, and Peacemaker,
we long for you.
As the sunlight diminishes each day, 
the shadows seem to overtake our world.
Chaos, confusion, and uncertainty threaten to spill
into every vacant space in our minds and hearts.

We long for your presence.
All: Loving God, be our peace.

As we move through this election season,
   we pray for inner peace.
We pray for an awareness of our belovedness,
   of the Spirit’s empowering presence.
Center us in our true, whole selves.
Give us clarity of mind and a discerning heart.

We pray for inner peace.
All: Loving God, be our peace.

We pray, too, for the peace we share with the world.
In the midst of harsh and hateful language,
   may we speak words of healing.
In the midst of hypocrisy and hyperbole,
   may we act with integrity.
In all the ways we live and move this week,
   may we be bearers of justice, mercy, and nonviolence,
   modeled on the way of Jesus.

We pray for our peace witness in the world.
All: Loving God, be our peace.

We pray for the peace of the world.
We pray for those in power,
   that they will use their power for unity and not for division.
We pray for each election site in our communities and nation,
   that intimidation and fear-mongering will be absent,
   and safety, wisdom, and a commitment to just process will flourish.   

We pray for our communities, that neighbors will reach out to 
neighbors in recognition of our common humanity.

We pray for the peace of the world.
All: Loving God, be our peace.

We long for your presence and peace, O God,
   in all people and all places,
   this day and everyday.

All: We ask this in the name of the Creator, Incarnate Wisdom, and Inner Breath. Amen.

Lord, have mercy

A sermon on Matthew 15:10-28; Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Lord, have mercy.
“Lord, have mercy.” It’s one of those phrases that suits so many situations and can be taken so many different ways.  Sometimes we utter it in exasperation, in disbelief or sarcasm, with an eye roll for good measure.  Perhaps more often these days, we say it in grief, shock, or surrender.  It’s a line for when we are at a loss for words or when words are simply insufficient.

The Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 yells this phrase at the top of her lungs.  “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented.”  Jesus doesn’t answer, but we know that he heard her, for the disciples sidled up to Jesus and urged him to send her away.  “She keeps shouting.  Her voice is shrill.”

Jesus weighs the situation, doesn’t say she can’t be there, and sort of diplomatically says, “Sorry, can’t help. You’re not in my constituency. Not my responsibility.”

The woman, of course, persists.  She jostles forward, using her body to block his forward progress.  “Help me, Rabbi.”

Again, with the excuse that the healing salve he has developed only works in certain cases, Jesus denies her access – he doesn’t have enough to spare, and it won’t work for her type.

Yet she remains, unmoving at his feet.  “Yes, Lord, yet even my type are healed by a drop of this balm for which we would scour the rubbish heaps at the edge of town.”

Jesus, whether in mock or true surprise, responds, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Her wish, the desire of her heart, in contrast the Pharisees earlier in chapter 15, is pure and life-giving.  What comes out of her mouth is the hope of her daughter’s healing.  And her daughter is healed instantly.

Healings in the Gospel of Matthew
Looking at the Gospel of Matthew as a whole, healings like this are commonplace. Generally, you can separate the healing stories into two themes or categories. 

The first category is the smaller of the two. These healing stories are grouped because they’re the ones where Jesus is the proactive actor.  There’s Peter’s mother-in-law in ch. 8, who is ill and Jesus goes in to heal her.  She does not, in the text, ask for healing and yet receives it.  Or there’s the man with a withered hand who Jesus encounters upon entering the synagogue in ch.12.  Again, the man does not ask for healing but receives it.  The healing of these stories reflects a proactive grace or proactive salvation – these are the people whom Jesus seeks out or whom he seems to just encounter along the way and offers healing.

The second category is the bigger group: healings that occur because people have sought out Jesus.  If the first group shows the proactive healings of Jesus, these stories show the responsive grace of Jesus.  Certainly, the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 falls in this camp, but this group also includes the crowds who are constantly following Jesus around. Who materialize instantaneously as he walks into towns, or gets off a boat, or comes down a mountain.  Many are healed or cured because they have sought out Jesus.

As a whole, the Gospel of Matthew encapsulates both proactive and responsive healings and grace. There are those who seek Jesus out and those whom he encounters along the way, and the end result is the same: healing.

Seeking Jesus Out
Given today’s text, I want to take a closer look at those who seek Jesus out.  The story of the Canaanite woman connects closely with three other healing stories in Matthew.

Two of them involve two blind men – so four blind men in total – and the third is a father who advocates for his epileptic son.  In each of these four stories, the ones-seeking-healing enter the story with the same line: Lord, have mercy!  And they all do so with equal gusto and persistence, for they are portrayed as speaking this line, “Lord, have mercy,” while “crying loudly,” or “shouting” or jostling through a crowd.  All, inevitably, find healing in Jesus’ response.

But the Canaanite woman’s story diverges here.  The first distinction is that while all experience some level of marginalization because of being affected by illness, the Canaanite woman has two additional stigmas. She’s a woman, of course, an unfortunate gender in that context. And the fact that she makes herself known in public through shouting is serious faux pas.

And, she’s Canaanite. The ethnic backgrounds of the others are not mentioned, from which we can infer that the men were Jewish.  She’s a woman…from the wrong tribe.  So the first divergence is that she should not be there; or, if she’s going to be there, she should know her place and stay in the background.

The other detail that is unique is that she is the only one who meets resistance from Jesus and the disciples when she cries out for mercy.  The disciples–silent in the other three stories–openly voice their desire for her to shut up and go away.  Not only is her voice not welcome, but they also want her to leave.  Jesus also puts up a barrier for healing that he does not construct for the others.

She did nothing different from the others who approached Jesus for healing, crying out, “Lord, have mercy!”  Yet she encounters resistance.  The relevance of how this still plays out today–even at the highest rungs of social and political power–should not be overlooked.

The “Foreigner” of Isaiah
Commentaries pitch a variety of hypotheses on what is happening between the Canaanite woman and Jesus.  In drawing in Isaiah 56, my sense is that the Canaanite woman is the example par excellence of the “foreigner” in Isaiah 56, whom God has committed to “gather in.”  Her body and her embodiment of covenant faithfulness bridge the good news of the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus’ teaching.

Hear again the words of Isaiah 56:6-7:

And the foreigners who join themselves to me,
Ministering to me,
Loving the name of YHWH and worshipping me–
All who observe the Sabbath and do not profane it,
And cling to my Covenant–
These I will bring to my holy mountain
And make them joyful in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be acceptable on my altar

The Canaanite woman persistently joins herself to the Son of David, who shares Canaanite blood with her through their common foremothers Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.  She ministers to Jesus with her wisdom and tenacity, acknowledging Jesus’ authority, and throws herself at Jesus’ feet like a servant.

She is committed, in her own way, to the law of the Sabbath, setting aside her daily labors to seek restoration, renewal, and healing for those in her care. The desire of her heart is a worthy offering.

She knows that she is one who, while an outcast of Israel, deserves a welcome at the house of prayer.  In fact, she will not be kept from it, even if she has to scour the rubbish heaps at the edge of town or sweep up the crumbs from the communion table.  I Am Who I Am has promised to gather all those in – the outcasts who seek the Holy One and the ones the Holy One encounters on the way.

Have Mercy, O God
For what or for whom do you seek healing?  When have you received healing as a gift? 

Whether we have sought out Jesus or unexpectedly encountered him on our journeys, our status as foreigners or even imposters will not be a barrier to the welcome table. 

As we see others drawn in, perhaps throwing elbows and shouting for mercy, may we not stand in their path, or ask them to be quiet and leave. May we instead step out of the way, for all deserve healing and a place at the table.  The Spirit is at work, gathering us to the holy mountain, where there is enough bread and wine for us all.  

Prayer of Petition, in preparation for Communion

Have mercy on us, O God, Son of David.
If we might but taste the crumbs which fall to the ground,
that will be enough to feed our faith,
to make us whole.
Draw us in, we who were once far off,
to your holy mountain,
to your house of prayer –
not only for our healing,
but for the healing of our children,
our siblings, our community,
for the healing of all nations. Amen.


Featured Image: Bazzi Rahib, Ilyas Basim Khuri. The Canaanite Woman Asks for Healing for Her Daughter, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57555 [retrieved August 18, 2020]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ilyas_Basim_Khuri_Bazzi_Rahib_-_Jesus_and_the_Canaanite_Woman_-_Walters_W59243A_-_Full_Page.jpg.

God the Good Gardener – Proper 10A

Reimagining God as a creative and uninhibited farmer through the Parable of the Sower.

Background: A few years ago, I reflected on the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9. This sermon, shared at Madison Mennonite on 7/12 and Germantown Mennonite on 7/19, “grows” out of those initial thoughts, expands them, and builds in the other Revised Common Lectionary texts of the day, Psalm 65 and Isaiah 55:10-13.

God the Good Gardener

Scripture is laden with metaphorical imagery for God and the way God acts in Creation.  Throughout both the Old and New testaments we encounter God in many forms – God is like a rock, a refuge.  God is like a warrior, a sovereign, a potter.  God is our metaphorical father and mother. God is like an eagle, a mother hen. God is a midwife, a bakerwoman. And so on…

As we hear in our scriptures today, God is like a gardener. Psalm 65, which we heard in the call to worship, declares that God “visits the earth and waters it.” In the Parable of the Sower, God scatters the Word on the ground that stretches out before God. And, in Isaiah 55, God waters the earth with God’s word, and the earth erupts with golden grain.

This image of God as a Gardener comes at a good point in our lives, here in the northern hemisphere, for seeds planted in earnest earlier in covid have taken root, and their abundance has begun to spill out and over trellises.  As one MMCer put it, we are approaching the season where gardeners must face the formidable “Deluge of the Green Bean.”

It is in this context, then, that we hear the parable of the sower, making connections as gardeners ourselves or as those who enjoy the plentiful harvests of others’ farms and gardens.

Land acknowledgment

I consider myself an average gardener. Much of my knowledge about gardening is the result of experience passed down through my family. Yet, it’s important to acknowledge that the gardeners and farmers of my family have accumulated that knowledge primarily as settlers on the land of peoples systematically displaced by European conquest and occupation. So, I offer this adapted land acknowledgment today as I share my reflections, a tension I and white folks must hold as we seek transformation and as we interpret biblical texts on the land.

Questioning Easy Interpretations

The parable of the sower is familiar enough to most of us that we know, without even reaching the interpretation of the parable, where the story is headed. The suggested lectionary reading includes the parable’s interpretation, but I left it out on purpose…

If there’s anything gardeners know and can agree to, it is this: one must resist predictable explanations and expectations when it comes to seeds. In honoring that, I resist the traditional, flannelgraph-worthy punch line of this parable: that some people are good because they’re prepared for the Gospel and some people are bad because they squander the Gospel.

As a gardener, I want to resist that dualistic interpretation. I want to resist it because when I reflect where I am in this parable, I see evidence that I’ve got all of these circumstances in me: sure, the fertile soil…but also the thin, rocky soil, the hungry birds, and no shortage of thorns or weeds.  I imagine this is true for most, if not all of us.  Each of these has a purpose for us as we grow in our understanding of who we are as followers of Jesus.

Thin, rocky soil

When the sower sows seed into thin, rocky soil, is it really all for nothing?  The seed sprouts, grows quickly, and then dies. 

But might what is gained in the long run balance the short-term loss?  In other words, while there will be no harvest of grain this year from that seed, all is not lost.  The plant that does grow will return to the earth, amending the soil as it composts. Over time, perhaps with the help of rain and animal droppings, too, seeds flung into this rocky soil will do the slow work of building up the land, until one day, there is a noteworthy harvest. 

The invitation of the thin, rocky soil is to recognize that the places within us where growth feels tenuous or unlikely, those places still hold profound potential.  God the Sower takes the long-view of who we are becoming.   And tosses seed where most other gardeners would leave the ground fallow. 

Weeds

Then there are the weeds. While the source of this quote might be surprising, a character in Jim Thompson’s 1952 thriller, The Killer Inside Me, states something gardeners love to re-quote (without knowing the source). The quote is: “A weed is a plant out of place.’ I find a hollyhock in my cornfield, and it’s a weed. I find it in my yard, and it’s a flower.”

It seems to me that so-called weeds have their own purpose and worth – whether retaining the soil’s moisture or reducing erosion or simply being a native part of an ecosystem we don’t totally understand. What if the invitation is to take the weeds – plants neither good nor bad, just in the wrong place – and move them to where they won’t choke out the fruit of the Spirit?

Birds

Then there are those hovering, hungry birds. I can only imagine that if I were in the crowd when Jesus was mentioning the birds that come and steal the seeds, it would have occurred to me about 10 minutes after Jesus had already pushed the boat off into deeper waters…to remember that there was another time when Jesus said something about the birds, and how they neither sow nor reap, and yet their heavenly Creator provides for them.

Well, how do I know it’s not the same birds from that example that are coming and taking the seeds in my field? Is there not enough grace and love in these good news seeds to share with all God’s creation? The invitation here is to see that God takes into account that all creation relies on God’s generosity. In turn, we are invited to resist our hoarding compulsions and to move instead into a spirit of jubilee – not just for humans, but for the land and creatures, too.

Fertile Soil

Which leaves us with the fertile soil.  One commentator on this text writes that the yield is “exceptional”; yet another says it’s “miraculous.”  These seem like distinctly different descriptions – one is possible, and the other is only possible with God’s intervention.  Both, I believe, are right.

Miraculously, God-the-sower imbues seeds with the most unexpected, unexplainable potential and possibility. That there is any of God’s word scattered in our lives is a gift. And exceptionally, we are created with the capacity to respond to God’s word — we do not rely on grace alone.  We can reflect on what sort of spiritual life we are cultivating.

The invitation of the fertile soil is to celebrate the average and exceptional fruits that we bear.  We are also invited to bask in the harvests borne of mystery and miracle.

The Sower Sticks Around

As much as the parable teaches us about us, it also teaches us about the nature of God…who, amongst other attributes, is like a good gardener.  A good gardener sows seeds in a field and then continues to tend the field.  God does not abandon God’s garden, but nurtures it through the seasons and years.  Listen to these words from Isaiah 55:10-13 (NRSV).

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

God the Gardener does not sow seeds that sprout empty promises or empty threats. God the Gardener uses choice seeds, honest in their purpose, true to their description, and imbued with unimaginable potential.  God the Gardener can create growth in spaces where the most seasoned farmer wouldn’t want to waste good seed.

Where God is the Gardener, the land is filled with jubilation, and the trees give a standing ovation. Where God is the gardener, ancient sequoias overshadow the thorns and trees of life crowd out the briers. 

Where God is the gardener, the thin soil and the rich soil will be equally peppered with word-seeds of faith, hope, and love.  Where God is the gardener, the birds and the field mice and prairie dogs will find there is enough for them, too.  Where God is the gardener, plants once thoughtlessly type-cast as weeds will be transplanted into God’s front yard.

May we be gifted with ears to hear and eyes to see that as God sows God’s word, holiness and beauty are abundantly cultivated in us and all around us.  May we give thanks to God–the good gardener, the best farmer–for lovingly and faithfully tending the fields of our souls in each and every season.