Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Fruits and Roots

This morning five-year-old William poked his head into the washing machine and said, "Mom, the bag's done!"

"Oh, I'd forgotten about the bag," I said.

"You forgot about the Mystery of the Flies?" he asked, shocked as a five-year-old may well be that anyone should forget such a thing.

We've been battling flies lately. Flies are Darwin's bête noir. He is always on the prowl with a swatter, ready to slay like the brave tailor, and yet as soon as one would go down two more would take its place. We took out the garbage, we threw away the fruit, and yet.

Yesterday afternoon we were rushing around getting ready for a lightning run down to Cincinnati, and for this I wanted to take the mostly disused diaper bag. I opened it to put a fresh stash of diapers in, and lo, there was a shirt of baby's in there with something on it. Something brown and chunky which stank of vinegar. I examined it. Not poop, but certainly something that had been solid, with lots of little white seeds? And then one of the seeds moved.

"Maggots!" I cried, and dumped the shirt in the garbage. Then I turned the whole bag upside down and dumped the contents in the garbage. Among the diapers and swim diapers and old onesies was a desiccated banana peel, put there, as best we sleuths could determine, during VBS week, the last time we used the diaper bag, two weeks ago. The bag must have contained the stench, as it was enough to wake the dead. Into the wash the bag went, into the outdoor trash the garbage went, into the van we went, and in the fun of the quick trip and seeing a play and old friends, I didn't remember this morning the disgusting but totally family thing that was a ten-minutes' wonder last night.

There's not really a moral or great life lesson to draw from this story. I only type it up because it's amusing, and because I haven't written here for an embarrassing amount of time. Life rushes on apace, and I forget in the evening things that were of great moment in the morning. Things keep coming, one after the other, and people keep needing things of me. And they're all good things, but I wish I could do them one at a time.

That's a silly thing to say, really, because at any given moment, I am doing one thing at a time. In confession recently, Father told me to practice being intentional, to choose to do something and then try to do it well. He was talking about prayer, about which I surely do need to be more intentional, but advice maintains across all my fields of activity.

One of my gifts is to be low-key, to be able to improvise in the moment, to not worry about what I am to say until I am to say it, and then to trust that through my particular talents and gifts and trainings that I can carry off whatever I'm doing. It's not a terrible way to operate, and in general it's a fairly easy-going way to live. But in some areas, this plan-as-you-go approach is preventing me from having the framework to be able to work most efficaciously. In the field of writing, for example, which I'm doing at this moment in drips and drabs between other things, this lack of structure is strangling me. In the field of prayer -- well, our entire lives should be prayers, and it's true that often during the day I turn my thoughts toward God and try to live for him, but without that structured framework of dedicated prayer time, my spiritual life, as one would expect, gets scattered.

Friday's gospel was the parable of the sower, from Matthew. Between the two extremes of the seed sown on the path, already barren, and the seed sown in good ground, which bears a harvest of thirty- or sixty- or a hundred-fold, there is the seed sown on rocky ground and the seed sown among thorns. The seed sown on rocky ground shoots up quickly, bears fast fruit, looks immediately effective. But the seed puts down no deep roots. Maybe it has a broad shallow network of roots right there on the surface, glorying in the easy nourishment of the warm rock and the little pools of surface water. Then, as soon as the sun grows intense, the plant is withering away under the onslaught. There's no root reaching down into the cool rich soil to allow the plant to bear up under the pressure. Sure, it flourished quickly, but just as quickly it goes.

The seed sown among thorns puts down deep silent roots. It spends its energy internally, privately, in quiet reflection. It may be tenacious. It may maintain under pressure. But it produces no fruit for anyone, no visible indication that the root system is doing any good. It may hold on under adverse conditions. It may stand up to the intensity of the sun. But if the farmer is looking for fruit and sees none, he'll clear away the fruitless thorns, sweeping the fruitless seed with deep roots. The fruit isn't frivolous or showy; it's an indicator of life. The deep, flourishing, solipsistic downward roots are no guarantee of ultimate fruitfulness. Fruit is the guarantee of fruitfulness.

I'd always felt more resonance with the seed sown among thorns, but recently it's been striking me that in some areas, I tend more toward the easy shallow rocky soil, doing things fast and quick and well until I can't. Then I set the activity aside "until I have a little time", "in a few weeks when the schedule eases up", "maybe over the summer". And here's summer more than halfway over, and I haven't put down my roots. Conversely, where my roots run deep, I'm not producing fruit -- meditating over a scripture passage or a meaty bit of spiritual reading without ever sharing the reflections for the good of others or to be refined as iron sharpens iron.

Perhaps it's matter of clearing away the rocks or the thorns from my soil, but you know, it's the farmer that does that, not the seed. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send us workers!

In the meantime, my diaper bag is drying out in the strong summer sun, and the flies are gone, and as I sit here writing the morning passes by.

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