Mark 4:9

And Jesus said,  “Let anyone who has ears to hear with hear.”

there are ears and ears
some can sort through din
finding a clear 440 A
by which to tune their life

other ears find attunement
and joy in an older 435 A
each can play well
but not so well together

deaf-eared and sharp-eared
can both hear life calls
and both miss their mark
in restrictive meme cultures

yes I have ears and no I don’t
to simply acknowledge this
brings a cave question
did I miss A whisper

Here we have it. After a long slog—verse by verse—there comes a clarion call.

Ears, here, are the inner ear of understanding, not simply our nautilus-like appendages. Did you space out during this six verse story? Yes? Where did that take you? Did you creatively turned this story about seeds and their landing places into a fertile place for visioning? You may want to return to this story to see how different it might be after daydreaming.

Remember that this is a directive to listen to the arc of life, not just a recommendation to glance over your shoulder. Giving attention to any process of life is not easy.

It was with attention that Julian of Norwich saw another seed vision:

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ and it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

It was with attention that Martin Luther wrote:

If you truly understood a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.

It is with attention that the Dali Lama speaks of Buddha:

Every sentient being—even insects—have Buddha nature. The seed of Buddha means consciousness, the cognitive power—the seed of enlightenment.

Listen/Attend: Grow where you are: part of a larger whole.

Mark 4:8

Some fell into good soil, and, shooting up and growing, yielded a return, amounting to thirty, sixty, and even a hundred fold.”

quote success end quote
is never a solitary event
seeds do not sprout in a vacuum

at a minimum water is needed
nutrients and an energy source
add their part

should life begin to blossom
pollination and distribution
mechanisms will be needed

success is a whole process
it takes a village
to support an entrepreneur

even in the midst of this joy
there are lost seeds and people
sacrificed to seemingly singular success

quote failure end quote
is never a solitary event
nature and nurture can conspire against

failure is a truncated process
it takes a village
to turn prejudice to discrimination

What loss and trauma simple seeds have experienced!

And, O, by the by, there are these other seeds. They fell into good contact with the soil, deep enough to provide sufficient moisture, and without significant competition. Whether this was by accident, providence, or fate, this seed grew (and grew and grew some more).

This is what we were after, a harvest.

The piling on of multipliers indicates what a marvelous harvest it is. Among those called, no matter their degree of distraction, denseness, or absence, a sufficient number carry the Jesus gene along.

A helpful evaluative tool is the taking of time and thought to review the beginning of a current endeavor. How was it planted and where? Even cement can crack and something grow in an unexpected place. Has there been growth? This is growth measured against a harvest as there are delays that come and harvests missed even though growth happened. Was the harvest sufficient to replace the sown seed and see us through a season? In all of this the time frame of the endeavor is critical.

Mark 4:7

Some of the seed fell among brambles; but the brambles shot up and completely choked it, and it yielded no return.

so many gifts we carry
imagine each flourishing
there would be no time to eat

so some gifts are weeded out
not so good for them
or those needing their increase

a gift caught among weeds
has little chance
if chance is what life is about

here gift does not multiply
even witnessing is cut short
weeds are most disheartening

never getting started we get
a flash in the pan was at least some-thing
but weeds don’t seem to have two sides

seven deadly weeds are quite enough
to touch every life
bound by an entitlement to time

Are you still rooting for the sower of seed? Really, even when their aim seems so fallible? Perhaps we need another sower? A more reliable Messiah?

External realities (from above) eat us up. Good intentions (from within) disappoint. What else can go wrong in life?

Well, neighbors and communities alongside them give evidence of good soil and water. Roots can dive deep, raising canopies.

Those same roots and stems/trunks/leaves desire sufficient resources for themselves and the piece of “survival fitness” they carry. Such acquisitiveness leaves no room for another to fruit. This is no limit from either the outside or from within, but between competing values that have no room for partnering with another.

If the birds and lack of gifts represent whatever might be meant by Creation and Spirit (G*D), this part of the story brings us back to Neighb*rs and the need to have a way to announce, again and again, a message of goodness when these yin and yang energies roll on with their changing partnership relations.

Mark 4:6

but, when the sun rose, it was scorched, and, because their roots were not deep enough, withered away.

itsy-bitsy spiders
know the sun dries up all the rain
seeds are just as wise

spiders can climb again
seeds can but wait and trust
valuable gifts but impractical

seed qua seed
does not flourish everywhere
but has a high mulch value

so no harvest this year
but imagine those to come
built on buried bodies come alive

how do we gather perspective
on ships and sails
and seeds and spiders

Just as with the birds, quick fixes usually mean there will be a bigger repair bill already on its way.

With our little seed relatives, we have found ourselves being a big frog in a small pond, a king of the croakers who continues to croak even as changes in climate push the heat beyond what can be borne. In this thought experiment variant, we are unaware of how we are increasingly imperiled, all the while denying a problem.

The joy of seeing only the sunny-side has led into a trap of prosperity gospels and positive thinking where a lack of common welfare and real science stokes a revolutionary fervor.

We feast on sunlight being chlorophylled into sugars that invite diabetes. We burn in sunlight damaging skin cell DNA and leading to cancer. There is no good without a corresponding limit that requires thought and discipline.

Even our favorite model of “premeditated mercy” (see book of the same name by Joseph Nassal) needs to recognize the reality of dealing with narcissistic and other sociopathic personalities who have no reciprocal response available to them other than taking advantage in the short-term and bringing death in the both short- and long-term.

A manipulative mercy has very short roots and turns into whining martyrdom. Mercy, holistically developed across generations, can give rise to increasingly diverse expressions of creative “it is good”s.

Two iterations of seed-landing locations have come (paths and shallow soil) and two opportunities for seeds to grow have gone. The story is still going on in Mark and it is still going on around us today. We are not through yet, even though we want to hurry on. Take another breath and let this story further wash over you?

Mark 4:5

Some fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and, because the soil wasn’t deep, sprang up at once;

rocky soil is not mature
shallow     granular
lacking earthworms
good for one crop
soon depleted

it is exciting
to turn a quick profit
but slow and steady
return customers
is long-term gain

individualized capitalism
has its built-in failure
favoring money over labor
a division fomenting revolution
nouveau riche is juvenile

As with all good intentions, some don’t even make it to the drawing table, much less move to next levels of implementation and finally payback.

Sometimes the first blush of inspiration or first crush, puppy love, sets us all aglow. Our energy is high and expectations higher. This is a grand moment when we can see we are ahead of everyone else.

The poor can see themselves as successful entrepreneurs, if only they had a break. Their fantasy: surely this is the year when everything is all going to break my way.

Can you remember your own best plan that took off like a house on fire? Well, maybe that isn’t the best image for soon you will be without a house. At least it garnered a lot of affirmation from those around you and even a first draft was looking good.

Don’t we wish that this story would move more quickly! While it may be our contemporary visual pacing of television and movies that drives us ever faster, there are other factors as well. One of them spans the generations—our real agenda.

Our ulterior motives keep us from doing simple, active listening. We keep thinking about what we are going to say next. How we can shine. In the story of Mark we have come to expect another healing right around the next urgently turned corner. And it may be mine!

The quicker Jesus can finish up this shaggy-seed tale, the quicker we’ll be back to the action.

Yes, seeds can grow quickly in shallow soil. So do our desires. To change metaphors for a moment, this part of the story is about boom-towns that spring up overnight to benefit special someones more than ordinary laborers who are here today and gone tomorrow.

Mark 4:4

and presently, as he was sowing, some of the seed fell along the path; and the birds came, and ate it up.

routine walking wears ruts
where grandest opportunities
go to die

there is no need to glance down
where some little nothing
sparkles in dust

we know where we’re going
who it is that goes this way with us
habitual friends distract

survival takes all the time we have
in the end it all goes up in smoke
no rose smelling

what got them in the end
putting one foot in front of the other
not paying attention

No matter how controlling we attempt to be—birds!

Even in the midst of deep fertile soil on the prairie where mechanical monsters plow, plant, and cover all in one efficient movement, birds still gather for they know how to glean before a harvest as well as after.

When scattering seed a fistful at a time, the number of seeds available to the birds probably goes up. No matter how we construct our risks there are always scenarios where the seed doesn’t stand a chance from the get-go.

With enough cameras with high enough resolution to image an individual seed on its journey from hand to land, we could even come up with an average of how many seeds made it to germination within the bounds of the field. Your homework is to search YouTube to see if you can find examples of broadcasting seed and estimate how many seeds fall somewhere where they are immediately available to an alert seed-feeding bird.

From our life-journey so far we might begin to see where the best soil for growing is and where it is too well-traveled, mapped, and otherwise owned. Hypothesis: The best place to sow seed or to fish for people is among the desperate. Those who are poor with no access to the medical care of the day provide an easy place to start a movement to make things better. A not-great place to expect an increase is with the rich and powerful, either religiously or politically.

Even the best and most practiced sower of seeds finds there are places where learning seems to have stopped—in deep, dark, packed ruts. Just acknowledge this and keep sowing.

Mark 4:3

“Listen! The sower went out to sow;

we used to know farm life
we now know grocery aisles

to make a point these days
it is market forces that speak

either we have heard this story too much
or it is too alien to translate

in theory an education system
would help us deal with allusions

test answers never help
in a land of alternative responses

so what if a farmer goes to seed
our minds are filled with weeds

The imperative injunction to “Listen!” is grown-up talk for, “Put your thinking caps on.”

It is time for a story problem that connects with your life and not just numbers. The train leaving Station A is Your Life. The train leaving Station B is Paradise on Earth. A point of connection is already underway. Will you find this connection today?

We are going to begin very easy. There is no rush here. What do you know about farmers? Yes, they farm. What is a farm? Yes, there are plant farms and animal farms and fish farms. On a farm, what happens to plants, animals, and fish? Yes, they grow. You already know a lot about this story.

This is a story about a plant farm. Plants grow from seeds and those seeds need to planted. That’s pretty funny—plants need to be planted.

There are lots of different ways that seeds can be planted. This story is about a method called “sowing”. When you see this word it is not about female pigs. When you hear this word it is not about constructing clothes. Sowing is taking a handful of seeds and tossing them where you want them to grow.

The sower wants to get them as close to the edge of their field as they can. Wind is one reason some seeds might end up beyond the field where the ground is not good for them and they won’t grow. You might think about other ways the seeds could get outside the farm land.

Oh, yes, it will be helpful to know this story is best known by the smallest and poorest farmers for whom every seed is important if they want to eat for another year.

Mark 4:1

Jesus again began to teach by the sea; and, as an immense crowd was gathering around him, he got into a boat, and sat in it on the sea, while all the people were on the shore at the water’s edge.

teachers learn pedagogy
student levels and environment
shape moments of engagement

teachers teach in situ
never to a passing fad
mistaking facts for meaning

teacher’s plans anticipate
next opportunities built from here
to keep curiosity healthy

teachers stand on desks
sit in boats wander freely
to best meet a multitude of muses

teachers attend to listening
a whisper in an ear
a clear word ricocheting through a crowd

the shape of a moment
calls forth more
than a teacher already has

Yet another beginning. “Again” (palin) reminds us to pause and cast our minds back to previous lake settings of callings, teachings about Sabbath, and lakeside healings.

Again and again we go down to the sea where, according to E.E. Cummings:

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Jesus’ musings about life (a future life available now) are about to tumble out in a series of parables that will put us at sea, trying to catch up and keep up with the images.

A part of our experience of wilderness is going in circles. Without a compass or other guide our tendency is to follow a leaning or habit and return to where we have already been. Parables assist us by having a surprise, beyond what we ordinarily see or think. If we are to season our tendency for repetition of the past with an increasing dose of a preferred future, shocks help lift our eyes.

Note that Jesus’ teaching is not oriented toward the passing of a written test. Given that testing is endemic to life and there are a multitude of reasons for not resisting a temptation, we are going to hear stories of ordinary items that will surprise us into reorienting our lives away from an old normal to a new relationship with the future—from fish to people, so to speak.