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Thursday, December 24, 2020

Sowing Light | Christmas Eve 2020

"Light is planted like seed for the righteous person; joy too for those whose heart is right."Psalm 97:11 Common English Bible

There is a lovely juniper tree in the front lawn of the place I grew up in rural northeast Missouri. Better known as 'red cedar,' this type of tree is quite common across the eastern and midwestern United States. When I was a child there were many such trees in the field just across the road from the house, having been seeded naturally from the old tree in our yard. Every late November before I was 11 or 12 my older brothers and I would cross the road and select the greenest tree of the best proportions to be our Christmas tree. Now anytime I smell cedar I can't help but be taken back to that time. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I learned that in cities and elsewhere it is spruce, pine, and fir trees that find their way into homes.

It was a simple matter for our cedar tree to sow all those seeds. It simply produced them and nature took its course. This is so with plants found in the wild generally. Meanwhile, if we want to have a good crop of corn, soybeans, or wheat, we have to sow the seed with a great deal of intentionality and effort. If corn has grown one year in a field but not the next, naturally there will be some 'volunteer' plants growing from seed that was left behind, but they are the tiniest of fractions of what had been there the year prior. It is only by planning, planting, and tending that farmers gather a harvest every year. 

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible has it in error that '[l]ight dawns for the righteous' in this passage. I'm not sure why the translators made this choice, where the text actually has light identified with seed and not the dawn. The dawn just happens, more certainly even than seed is dispersed in the wild. Here, though, the seed is sown or planted. This is a matter of intention. Whatever the passage was originally intended to mean, we can draw from this the simple observation that before planting there must be intent leading to action, and then between germination,and harvest is a wait. Even just waiting a couple of weeks for germination can seem like forever to a gardener watching for new life. 

We could wait around hoping that things will get better, and that 'light' with be sown in our lives and in the world. Or else we can take action. With each day we can make a resolution to do what we can to make way for a little more light to grow in the world. We can't expect to work miracles or solve thorny interpersonal or systemic issues overnight. Instead, we make small choices about our lives and our interactions that can be liberatory, oppressive, or simply routine. Every so often over the course of that past 20+ years of adulthood people have told me how something I said or did really helped them. More often than not it seemed like a small thing to me at the time, if I even remembered it now. When such seeds sprout we can feel surprised by what grows from it, but the fact that it was a small good that became a greater good should not.

What constitutes a 'liberatory act'? Honestly, this is really difficult to define. It could be something small, like putting bird food out in the winter as an expression of our commitment to the 'interconnected web.' Maybe it's dropping someone a line who we haven't heard from for a while, or who is going through a tough time. In that we respect and affirm the inherent worth of each person. Voting is participation in the democratic process, a means by which the collective will is expressed. Perhaps it's working through our place in white supremacist culture, or advocating for immigration reform that renews the promise of America. 

In the days ahead, pay attention to what goes on, and find something, however great or truly very small, to do to bring liberation into the world. It's okay if this is difficult at first. Through trial and error, day after day, we can learn to recognize the needs of the world, and do our part to plant seeds of light.