Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Soil and Quaker Renewal: A Prairie? Post 2

In my last post on the Quaker renewal (and by that, I mean the renewal of Quaker faith and practice, not institutions, per se), I spoke about how I feel that many of our meetings are like fallow fields -- involved in the invisible process of rest and renewal and ready to burst forth with life.  And I mentioned the questions that my friend asked me in follow-up, continuing the metaphor:

  • tilling = ?
  • planting = ?
  • seeds of life = ?
  • soil = ?
  • deep soil = ?
  • shallow soil = ?
  • plants = ?
  • fruit = ?

I am going to address a few of those in this post.  The ones about soil.  After all, in the prairie outside my window, it's the soil that is lying fallow. It's not the plants seed, and so on.  The soil has been getting ready for this coming summer since early last autumn.  The various plants -- warm season grasses (big blue stem, little blue stem, side oats gamma), forbs (black-eyed Susan, coneflowers of various shades, partridge pea, milkweed, ironweed, rattlesnake master, New England aster) -- are either dormant (the grasses) or dead.  All of the plants, dead or dormant, have been shaken by the wind and rain, releasing seeds that scatter across the land.  They've been buried in snow, borne down by the weight and pushed into contact with the soil.  They've been disintegrating.  They look ugly.  The whole prairie, but the world's standard of beauty, looks ugly.  Dead.

And yet that's exactly what's needed.  The dead plants are feeding the soil.  The rain is watering it and breaking it up so that the new seeds can find just enough depth to germinate and spread their roots.  The snow, in addition to adding moisture to the ground, insulated the dead growth from the bitter cold and sped the decomposition process.

So, back to the questions my friend asked.  In Quaker life today, what is the soil?  What is the deep soil? And what is the shallow soil?   Hmmm, her questions remind me a bit of story of Jesus from Matthew 13 --

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

When I answered my friend (and we were having this conversation Facebook Messenger, hence short answers), I told her I thought "soil = our souls. the soul of the community/meeting."  Upon further reflection, I still think that.  The soil in which the Seed grows best is our individual souls and the soil of the meeting.  Does a meeting have "a soul."  I think it does.  I would argue that the soul of a meeting can be "felt" when we pay attention -- is it a deep, spiritual soul filled with love and life?  Or is it one of discord and disharmony?  Regardless, the Seed longs to spring forth.  But the soil must be made ready.

In the case of the prairie, natural, organic processes are at work.  The afore mentioned decomposition and watering.  But also, as the soil warms, worms and bacteria moving through, breaking it up, preparing it for growth.  Production farmers augment the processes, in their need to turn a profit, with chemical fertilizers and herbicides.  They increase the short term fertility and viability of the soil, but drain it, too.

That's why I believe that the processes for Quaker renewal have to be organic -- growing naturally from the Spirit doing spiritual work within us and the soul of the meeting.  There is no quick fertilization.  While we celebrate the past, we must allow it to die and thereby nurture new grow.  I'm not talking of people here, so much as the ancestor worship we often engage in -- remember how we worked for abolition of slavery, for women's suffrage, against the Vietnam war?  Yep we did.  But those are past.  What work is God calling us to now?  I cannot sit back and just look at photos of prairies past -- even though I have tons of pictures. They are glorious.  And each prairie in last seven years has been different.  Each one is new and unique.  Let's celebrate, let the past feed and inspire us, and move forward!

And, while we may not like to think of ourselves this way, some of us need to be worms and bacteria.  We need to be preparing the soil -- some with prophetic calls for justice as a spiritual enterprise, others by prayer and example, others by leading spiritual formation opportunities, some by...  Much of this may be "underground" and invisible to the larger field of the Society of Friends, but is happening across the US and Canada even now.  We need to do what we can to encourage this work.  And, instead of bemoaning the lack of visible "results", to keep at it.

For there is deep soil out there.  Deep soil, for me, equals souls/spirits who are hungry for God and community and real spiritual work.  Some people and meetings may not even be able to name that hunger.  But they know it when they experience it -- and find it nurtured.  We are called to move out of the shallow soil of being "cultural Quakers," of seeing the Quaker way as a system of ethics or as a "nice way of behaving" (i.e. the Testimonies divorced from their grounding spirituality).

I feel the soil preparation has been going on for a long time.  It needs to continue.  Organically, like I said -- from Friends who feel called to be at work, even behind the scenes. 
Spring is nearing, though.  Which means  is also time for some above ground work.

  • tilling = ?
  • planting = ?
  • seeds = ?


1 comment:

Angela York Crane said...

Yes. Yes and yes.