At some point in human history, a simple but remarkable act of faith took place for the first time. Probably after a day of hard hunter-gathering, picking seeds from the heads of wild grasses, somebody somewhere consciously chose not to eat everything that had been gathered. Instead, someone, somewhere decided to take a few of those precious seeds and throw them away – to deliberately let them fall onto the ground. I guess they had probably seen what happened when seeds were dropped accidentally, how some of them took root and flourished; but at some point accident became intention. Someone chose to sacrifice something that would normally and very obviously enhance life with its calorific energy, and they did it in the hope that more would happen, that more life would come. That basic act of faith, repeated time and again, is what we now call agriculture.
This last week has been our first Week of Accompanied Prayer. About 20 people have chosen daily to devote half an hour to prayer and then to meet with a guide to reflect on what was happening. In addition, on three evenings almost double that number have attended workshops led by Vincent, Gary, Ali and Christine on topics of creativity and prayer, making choices, and praying with our bodies. In all, about half of this congregation have been involved in the Week in some way.
The Kingdom of God is like this: a farmer scatters seed….
During the week, I’ve found myself captivated by the simple image of a hand throwing away seed‑broadcasting‑letting it go. A gesture, on the surface, indistinguishable from throwing away something precious. And in a way, this week, that’s exactly what half of this congregation, in some form, have chosen to do: half of you have chosen to throw away like precious seeds upon the ground, a part of your life: you have given your time to prayer. Some an evening, some three evenings, some a whole week.
Prayer, it seems to me, is like the farmer casting seeds upon the earth. Fundamentally it involves a choice to let go: to let go of using a portion of time for other apparently more productive, more obviously useful activities; to let go of business and the status, security and importance that can come with productive time; and instead simply to make space to listen‑not just to talk‑but to sit, rest, and wait with God: in silence, in breath, in awareness of the body, in moulding clay, in playing with poetry, in scripture: in some way just wasting time, foolishly casting it away, like seeds upon the earth.
What letting go looks like‑the way you do your prayerful listening, your resting with God‑differs from person to person. As an introvert who prefers stillness, here’s what letting go looks like in sculptural form for me. But I mentioned a few weeks back, I know someone else for whom prayerful letting go looks like *this (dancing).
The Kingdom of God is like this: a farmer scatters seed in a field.
Notice the end of the sentence: in a field.
Sowing crops is not just about throwing seeds away willy-nilly; it is a letting go with intention. The seeds are not just dropped by the side of the road, or among the bushes–though in fact the broadcast technique will result in some being lost entirely. But, on the whole the farmer casts away those precious seeds deliberately, in a space that has been cleared, that is not busy and cluttered with other things. And he or she does it again and again, it becomes a routine. In fact, I dare to imagine that over time the farmer becomes more confident: flings those precious seeds wider and wider, trusting that something good will happen.
Could prayer be like this, throwing away time with God each day, again and again, in hope of being met, and doing it with intention? The word ‘intention’ was one we alighted on together on Tuesday‑that it is important that when we enter prayer we do it wanting something. Ali picked this intentionality up in her workshop on Wednesday as she spoke about desire. We are allowed, no: encouraged to cast our time upon God with hope, with desire, with aims for what we believe will be an enriched life, just as the farmer casts the seeds upon the field in the hope of a rich crop.
This, then, is how I would characterise prayer: letting go with intention. Like throwing away seed deliberately.
What happens when we find a way to pray that fits us, that fits our routines, our personalities and habits, that includes both waiting and hoping, both listening and desiring?
The Kingdom of God is like this: a farmer scatters seed in a field. He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing, and he does not know how it happens.
When some of us met on Friday to review our week, several people expressed in surprise that this letting go, this waiting, this time spent listening, turned out not to be a waste after all. Indeed, for a few, in a way that was as inexplicable to them as the sprouting of the seed to the farmer, prayer became a fertile space.
Well, sometimes, the yield is astonishingly rich; and sometimes it is not; sometimes we hear God clearly and the world makes sense to us; and sometime we don’t and it doesn’t; most often, prayer is just satisfactory: enough for the day, a daily portion of wheat for daily bread. And sometimes prayer is disappointing, like a patchy harvest.
The merit of having a prayer-guide, a spiritual director, someone one speaks to about prayer, is then like one farmer calling to another for advice: someone who has been in these parts a bit longer, who might have some tips on when and where to sow, how to irrigate better, what to do with weeds that get in the way… And even if one does not confide in a guide, an apparent experience of fruitlessness is not a reason to give up. On the contrary, its the place to start afresh with question about desire–what do I want of God? Why? What do I really need? What might God want to give me?
Prayer, like scattering seed in the field, is worth doing regularly–worth doing even when there is no guarantee of what one will get.
This then, to my mind, is prayer: casting away a part of our lives into the field of God, hoping, desiring for something good to grow: for fruitful lives.
And now, I shall let go with intention the rest of this sermon. For I want to cast away the next few minutes and invite those who’ve participated in the week with a guide to share the fruits of their own experiences on what praying has been like. I tipped them off on Friday at our final meeting, and said I’d invite those who wished to share to stand up and then spread out among the rest of the congregation to find a group to share…
The Kingdom of God is like this: a farmer scatters seed in a field. The Kingdom of God is like this…
Image courtesy of https://www.dezeen.com/2010/10/11/sunflower-seeds-2010-by-ai-weiwei/