When we walk into our local library my kids race to the familiar shelves in the young readers section. They brush their fingers along the spines of the books, grabbing favorites as they go. I usually head in the opposite direction to browse my favorite aisle: Religion and Self-Help—which strikes me as poorly paired. The kids are interested in books that tell stories, while I enjoy the books that deal in truth. Not surprisingly, their books often remind me that truth is best found in story, like the day my daughter Annika picked out a book called And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano.
“First you have brown, all around you have brown. And then there are seeds.” The boy in this book tucks some seeds into the soil, and the rest of the story is about how he waits for them to grow. Just to be sure, he makes a sign to put in his garden: “Please do not stomp here. There are seeds and they are trying.”
That line planted its own seed in my heart. We can be heavy-footed. When someone makes a mistake, it is tempting to criticize. When a classmate offers a new way to think about something, it is tempting to have our response ready. When it seems that formation is occurring in fits and starts, it is tempting to focus on the fits rather than the starts. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Some days we look around us, or in the mirror, and it seems there is not much growth happening. “All around you have brown.”
Many of us here are planting new seeds, or we are like new seeds ourselves. Perhaps we should walk carefully. For those who find themselves at a new beginning—parenting a first child, starting seminary, entering a new internship, and preaching for the first time—wouldn’t it be lovely if we could mentally place such a sign: Please do not stomp here. There are seeds and they are trying.
When it comes to growth and surprise, potatoes have something to teach us. You can’t grow potatoes without piling dirt on top of them for their first month in the ground. This is called “hilling.” The plant is unable to fight through and to the casual observer, it looks as though nothing is happening in that field. For weeks on end, all around you have brown. But down below, the tuber is, in fact, growing. What a surprise to dig your hands into nothing more than a hill of dirt and come out with potatoes the size of a small fist. It reminds me to be patient with myself and others. It suggests that I be open to the possibility of surprise.
It also reminds me of the boy in this book. At one point he looks around at the barrenness of his new garden. It is still brown, he thinks, but it is a hopeful, very possible, sort of brown. There is so much of this “hopeful, possible sort of brown” all around us. We all face particular challenges, and many of them go unseen. So let us be careful not to stomp here. There are seeds and they are trying. ∞
Andrea Bult is a 3rd-year M.Div. student from Prince Edward Island, Canada. She is a pastoral intern at Madison Square CRC.