Last year I was asked to help my niece prepare for her biology ‘O’ level. I had not touched the subject in 20 years and had forgotten how much of it related to plants (which was never my favourite part!). Nonetheless, one significant benefit was revising the chapters regarding soil especially since the Parable of the Sower was so central to our last Lenten retreat. Continuing from that parable, I thought I could bring out a few discipleship lessons from the earth that God made.
- Soil needs to be tilled i.e. broken up with a plough or other tool. One of the reasons is to allow aeration of the soil and to create space to facilitate the germination of seeds.
We lead busy lives darting from one commitment to another. We live in the era of information overload and as much as a smartphone can be useful, it can also feel like living in a home with no front door. Some of us recognise the need for personal space. Not physical space but emotional, mental and spiritual space; a privacy that is not so vulnerable to the intrusion of the world. Jesus said ‘when you pray, go into your room and close the door.’ After closing the physical door, we may also need to turn off the phone to be truly alone with God.
‘Make desert in your life.’ Carlo Carretto
We have so many thoughts and emotions that we brush under the carpet to push on with our busy schedule. We must make space for them to surface otherwise we risk losing touch with ourselves; and if I become disconnected from ‘me’ I will eventually become disconnected from God too. St. Augustine wrote ‘Lord, help me know myself and I will know You.’
At times discipleship needs a prayer time that is not always racing against the clock; a ‘quiet’ time not sandwiched between activity and activity! ‘Wasting time’ with God allows His word to go deeper into our hearts and transform us in those areas where we are still ‘deaf & blind’, and where change needs more than goodwill.
- Seeds needs light and water
At the risk of stating the obvious, discipleship is not possible without prayer and the Sacraments.
- Plants need ‘food’ like Nitrogen and phosphorous. While plants growing in the fields can get them from the soil, because nature has a way of regenerating them, potted plants cannot replenish them because they are ‘isolated’.
We are in need of the experience of God that comes from Community praise and worship and having God’s word preached to us. It is not enough to have this experience once and the beauty of personal prayer does not do away with the need for praising God together with others. Many of us can attest to a Community meeting re-igniting our spiritual life, especially in dry & difficult spiritual times.
Apart from this we are so vulnerable when we start to drift away. I once watched a documentary about a group of lions trying to attack a water buffalo. They waited until one of the buffalo got separated from the herd and attacked. It is no surprise that St. Peter calls the devil a ‘prowling lion looking for someone to devour’. We must have the wisdom and humility to realise that without the support of the Community we become more vulnerable to temptation and compromise.
- Even if all the other conditions for good plant growth are met, if a pest is allowed to infest the crop, the plants will die anyway.
In the Song of Solomon, there is this interesting line that says ‘catch for us… the little foxes that ruin the vineyards… in bloom.’ How interesting that the author specifically states that the foxes are ‘little’ and that the vineyards are in ‘bloom’ which means that they are thriving. He is concerned about how vulnerable his crop is when it is ‘strong’.
He is speaking about little sins and compromises that start to cause a slow decay in our spiritual life even when it is strong. It’s often much like tooth decay. It starts from the inside where it is doing harm but is less noticeable. When it becomes evident, the damage is already quite significant.
Spiritual compromise is similar. It starts small and works on the inside. If unnoticed or unchecked it will eventually eat away at our relationship with God and undo so much spiritual progress in our lives. We find that battles and temptations we thought were in the past start to resurface.
What are the conditions that allow compromise in our life? Many times it is a combination of a time when our spiritual life is less vibrant (whether this is our fault or a time of authentic dryness), and a factor that starts to compete with our love for God like ambition or a relationship.
An honest prayer life and accountability to a spiritual director are the best protection against such ‘pests’.