Sermon: Creations Groans: In the snow, the seeds, and our breath

IMG_1319(1)By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, co-editor of
Day House, Detroit Catholic Worker
July 16, 2017

Isaiah 55:10-11, Psalm 65,
Romans 8:18-23, Matthew 13: 1-9

This week I noticed some large scratchy leafed plant pop up on our driveway. It winded its way out of a narrow patch of dirt between a rotting log and the spot where we prop our gate open when we are driving in and out. It has unmistakable orange flowers, each day it is multiplying in size. The seed must have planted itself in the small bit of soil after rotting there from neglect after celebrating the season when the veil is thin. It has always been my dream to have a huge pumpkin patch. So, for now, I am cherishing this unexpected gift. I have dragged more logs over to protect it and will give it whatever space it needs. I can’t open our gate all the way and I drive into the driveway in the most peculiar way. It feels like a little miracle that I get to tend and delight in each day.

All four of these readings are stunning, stoked in creation. Multiple times I thought, I want to write out that line and hang it on my wall. Within these readings, creation is talked about in four different ways. Creation as metaphor for the love of God. Creation as something we are called to nurture. Creation as its own player in the work of liberation. And creation as parable for us to struggle in understanding our own lives.

In the Isaiah reading, as a lover of rain and snow, my heart rises with the words “Rain and snow come down and does not return there til they have watered the earth.” It is the elements that nurture our world… that keep us alive. And the reading says, that that is who God is.

I am struck how in this reading, we have to intimately know creation in order to understand who God is. And I imagine that the audience to who this is written for understands that. They hear that God is like the rain and snow and they understand their own survival in God. But we live in a culture that has lost that intimate connection to the rhythms of the earth. Rain and snow are simply an inconvenience. But here in this text, it is a call that if we want to know God, to understand God’s love and word, we must know the world like our ancestors- the beauty, the work of our hands, and the rhythm of the seasons and our bodies’ relationship to it.

The food system is certainly one way that we have manufactured our own disconnection from the earth. In my own life, I am always struck by the simplicity of eating seasonally or eating out of a garden. It shifts things in me. Food tastes so good when I had placed the seed in the mud. If I try to eat only what is accessible seasonally in this place, suddenly, it’s not about eating strawberries whenever I want, but instead I start to crave them, I long for them, and then I am filled with delight. In late winter, my tongue starts watering as I wait for fresh greens and rhubarb. Or waiting for the zucchini to be ready for chocolate chip zucchini bread or for fresh tomatoes. It is continual abundant joy.

Recently, we have started a new practice in our house of “chores.” Right after breakfast, we get out of the house and into the yard and get to our chores. Isaac collects the eggs, feeds and waters the chickens, and then we harvest. Each of the kids has a little basket with their name on it and we go wherever there is food to be picked. This week it has been raspberries, chives, and kale. This year already, we have delighted in the abundance of strawberries, cherries, and rhubarb. Cedar, still stands under the cherry looking up and crying asking for more cherries. And Isaac continually is paying attention to what in the yard is dying- fruit or flower. He is grieving the loss even as something new is ripening before our eyes. It is these chores and daily work that are trying to put our bodies back in relationship with the seasons- in all their abundance and scarcity, in their living and dying.

It is amazing to me how much scripture and our own liturgical calendar calls us to live within the seasonal clock of the world. You can feel the ways that the indigenous, earth based traditions are right beneath the liturgical calendar.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote a book on the liturgical seasons in which he begins it by saying…

“The rain. The dew. The dryness. And then rain again, and dew, and dryness. The story of the circling year. From the rabbis, mystics, and farmers of sixteen centuries ago we have a book that tells the story of the circling year. That teaches us what to do if the delicate machinery should stop.”

What would we do if the machinery were to stop? Are we caring for creation or are we just building more machines to control and manipulate creation to our own whims?

The psalm opens with the words “You have visited the land and water it, greatly have you enriched it.” I wonder that question for myself, for all of us. What are the places we have spent our lives? Have we watered and enriched the places? Or have we extracted and used? I want to leave behind a life that watered and enriched this little bit of earth.

A friend of mine often starts meetings with a centering meditation. She has us breath in and out. While we are breathing, she says that if we did nothing else in this life, but breathed in and out, that that would be enough. Our breathing feeds the trees. I am always struck by that. Sometimes I think us humans might do a lot more good in this world if we spent more time doing nothing but breathing.

The times in my life that I have been most attuned to breath are the moments of death and birth. I remember being ten and holding hands with my family as we listened to the final breath of my grandpa. I remember the sound of my mom’s last hours of breathing. And I will never forget what it felt like to breathe through the contractions of labor. That was the hardest and most important breathing I have ever done. Holding an almost unbearable pain inside of me and then remembering to breathe. It is the breathing that got me through it. And it was Erinn’s constant voice in my ear reminding me to breathe. Counting for me as I breathed in and out, helping me to relax into the pain.

In Romans it says that “We know that all of creation is groaning in labor pains.” Here creation is its own player. Creation is pushing back against the slavery humans have placed her under. Creation is crying out to share in the joy of liberation with the children of God. Labor has begun. Something is being birthed. Change is coming. There is hope and anticipation ripe in this reading. But there is also the groan, the pain.

I look at creation today- at pipelines and fracking, at ice bergs and mountain top removal, at wild fires and droughts, at factory farms and pesticides, at incinerators and toxic waste, at weapons and war, at poisoned water and taps turned off. I feel the pollution of southwest Detroit in my lungs. I know the lots we can’t plant on because of lead poisoning. I see the asthma rates near the incinerator and the cancer rates near Marathon. I hear the cry. I hear the groan. I can feel the pain.

But I cannot trust them as the pains of labor.  Are these the breaths and groans of dying or is life and liberation on its way?

I feel the exhaustion and despair of people in the city of Detroit. In movement. In the work of survival. People keep pushing on through the pain.

I was thinking about being in labor with Isaac. A 52 hour labor. About 24 hours in, Erinn asked me what was going on in my head during the contractions. I told her that all I could feel was the pain. It was all consuming and that I couldn’t remember that this pain is what brings forth new life. So, from that moment on in every contraction she helped me to breath and reminded me that a baby was coming.

Maybe that is our work right now to help one another to breathe and remind each other to keep being in the pain because life is coming.

This Arundhati Roy quote reminds me of the breathing and labor pains.

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe… Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

I love that one of the forms of resistance she names is knowing how to tell our own stories and refusing to buy the stories that are sold to us. Jesus knew this well. He played and twisted with stories. He turned cultural narratives on their head. He incited lives of resistance with simple stories about vines and bricks and seeds. One of those parables we have today.

It is a story of seeds being spread. In an age when seeds are being genetically engineered into “terminator seeds” by companies like Mansanto. When seeds are engineered to be sterile so that we become dependent on corporations instead of the earth. When seed saving has become an act of resistance. It seems important for us to listen to the stories about seeds.

The story goes like this

Seeds are scattered
Some fall on the path and the birds eat them up.
Some fall on rocky ground where there is not enough soil, so they grow small plants and then die.
Some fall among thorns, grow, and then die.
And some fall on rich soil, and produce an abundance of food.

There are many interpretations of how to read this story, but most commonly we think about how we become seeds in rich soil. The seeds in rich soil are good while the other ways are bad.

But if we think about the Romans reading, and think of creation as a player in these stories then it reads differently.

The seed is scattered all over.
Some falls on the path and the birds eat and are saved.
Some falls where there is little dirt, the plant grows, dies, and becomes compost, creating dirt where there was none.
Some falls among the bio diversity and death is real.
And some falls on rich soil and humans are fed.

It is all good. Seeds are the source of life for all of creation. There is abundance to be shared.

This year, I watched our cherry trees that were not properly pruned for human picking. So, instead I watched the baby robins learn to fly taking their first flight to the top of our cherry tree delighting in the fruit. I watched my toddling one year old devour them, pits and all. I watched my four year old climb way up the limbs to pick the ripest one. And even now, I delight in watching the ones we just couldn’t get, fall to the ground and rot back into the earth and feed the worms. It is uncontrollable, abundant gift. Hear its breathing. Heed its cry. Know that the as the Sikh teaching says “Creation is in the creator and the creator is in Creation.”

I will end with a piece of poem by Mary Oliver called Someday.

Oh love, lay your hands upon me again.
Some of the fruit ripens and is picked and is delicious.
Some of it falls and the ants are delighted.
Some of it hides under the snow and the famished deer are saved.


3 thoughts on “Sermon: Creations Groans: In the snow, the seeds, and our breath

  1. Jim Bjerke

    I recently subscribed to your posts and just an FYI, 3 out of the 4 posts I have been sent say page not found when clicking “read more”. Both on this outdated iPad and my new iPhone. Just a heads up.

    1. Lydia

      Thank you for this. There was an error that this post was sent out early and then taken down but the other links should be working. We will look into it. Apologies and glad you have subscribed!

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