The theme of the retreat was “Autumn: A Season of New Beginnings”. The Bible reading was Mark 4:1-20 and 30-32. These are the Parables of the Sower and the Mustard Seed. Here’s my Condensed Gospel version of them:
The parable of the sower
Jesus was again teaching beside the sea. He decided to teach while sitting in a boat in the water because a large crowd had gathered around him. The crowd stood on the shore to listen to him. They had come to hear him from every town.
He taught them many things using parables, including this one: “Think about the person who went out to sow his field. While he was sowing, some seeds fell along the path and birds came and ate it. Other seeds fell where there were more rocks then soil. The seed sprang up quickly, but then withered just as quickly in the sun because it didn’t have deep roots to gather moisture. Other seeds fell among the thorn bushes and the thorns made it impossible for them to produce a crop. Yet other seeds fell on good ground and were able to produce 30, 60, even 100 times what was sown. Anyone who has ears should listen to this!”
MT 13:1-9, MK 4:1-9, LK 8:4-8
When Jesus was alone with his disciples, they came up and said to him “Why do you speak to people in parables? What does the parable of the sower mean?”
Jesus answered them “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been revealed to you but not to everyone. For them the information is transmitted in parables so that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled. It says ‘They may listen but never understand, and they may look and never see. For people’s hearts have grown hard and their ears have grown deaf, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they might see, hear, and then understand and turn back, and I would heal them.'”
MT 13:10-15, MK 4:10-12, LK 8:9-10
Jesus said “Do you not understand this parable? Then how are you going to be able to understand any of them? The seed is the word of God. The sower is the one who shares it with others. The people along the path are those who have heard the message about the kingdom and don’t understand it. Satan has snatched away the words that were sown in their hearts so they would not believe and be saved.”
“As for the seed sown on rocky ground, this represents the people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. However, because they are not rooted in their faith, they believe for a little while but stumble when troubles come because of the word.”
“Regarding the seed sown among thorns, these are the people who hear the word but are distracted and paralyzed by worry and greed, and the word is not able to take root in them and produce any fruit.”
“But the seed sown on good ground represents the people who hear the word with honest and open hearts. They understand it, welcome it, and through endurance are able to bear much fruit, even up to 100 times what was sown.”
MT 13:18-24, MK 4:13-20, LK 8:11-15
The parable of the mustard seed
“How can I explain what the kingdom of God is like? What can I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed sown in the ground. It is smaller than any other seed, but when grown, it is a huge tree, taller than any plant in the garden. It becomes a tree big enough for birds to make nests in its large branches.”
MT 13:31-32, MK 4:30-32, LK 13:18-19
I’d never thought of Autumn as a time of new beginnings. To me, it was always seen as a sign of endings. It is harvest time, a time of wrapping up, of preparing against the winter that is to come. It is a beautiful time, but short-lived, and leads to a time of sparseness and lack. It is hard to fully enjoy the glory of Autumn knowing that the trees will soon be bare and ice and snow are coming.
But I like this new idea that was offered at the retreat – think of Autumn as a time to sow seeds. They have to be planted in the ground in Autumn, and rest quietly underground in darkness, in silence, unseen, in order to grow into what they are to become.
The poet Mary Oliver said “Is it not incredible that in an acorn something has hidden an entire tree?”
I saw a church sign recently that said “We can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.”
Seeds are powerful things to think about.
It is also a gift to be invited to see old things in new ways.
My Mom gave me shiny pennies. My Dad gave me leaves. I’m grateful that they gave me simple things to remember them by. But interestingly, these things are both brown. I’ve been drawn to brown for a few months now, sketching with it, writing with it, painting with it, making jewelry with it. Different shades of brown – chocolate, caramel, sepia, café au lait.
I’ve been meditating on the fact that Dad was red-green color blind, so most of the time he saw nature as brown. The army green that I wear as my neutral color these days would have been brown to him. Autumn was his favorite time of the year because he could finally see colors.
While at the retreat I made some art to think about him and how he saw the Autumn world, the time when he was happiest. This is the first one I made. It is 7” x 10”.
I was going to make a simple one on a 4 x 6 index card, but I couldn’t find them in the craft supplies so I decided to work bigger instead. I’m glad I did.
I had some leftover materials so I made a second one. They work perfectly together. It is hard to see that here, and I don’t have a larger scanner. You could click on the pictures, print them out, and put them together to see what I mean.
While making these pieces I had quite a bit of understanding and peace come over me concerning my parents. I’m grateful I took the time to make this art, and also grateful that I was in the craft room alone so I could cry a little.
One thing I’m coming to understand is that there is great beauty in just allowing experiences to be what they are without defining them. I’m also learning that life is richer if it is a blend of things – for instance, happy/sad/wistful/grieving/hopeful is a valid feeling, even though we don’t have a word for it. Just like with Autumn leaves, they are more beautiful if they are a range of colors – reds, greens, yellow, orange, brown – all on the same tree, and often on the same leaf.
It was a gift from my Dad’s spirit that when we happened to take his ashes to scatter, it was the peak of Autumn in the mountains. This is where I sat to disperse his ashes, some 20 years after he had died.
You know where you stand with Autumn.
Not tall, not short.
Between life and death,
awakening and slumber,
the present and the future,
the known and the unknown.
Autumn is a time of harvests, of reaping
yet also sowing, of planting.
Hardy bulbs planted now sleep deeply,
hibernate like mother bears,
Both awake in spring,
with flowers, with cubs,
new growth, new life
out of that stillness,
We too are called into that cave, that tomb, that dark earth into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We too are called into quiet, into stillness, so the seeds that God has planted within us can grow.