Let’s consider the parable of The Sower found in the Gospel of Matthew 13:2-9.

Many of us believe that Jesus is inviting us to think about how ready we are to receive God’s word in this parable. To judge what kind of soil we are and to straighten up and fly right so to speak – to be “good” soil. 

As we have noted before, there is really no right or wrong way to understand a parable. It’s just one of the many reasons why Jesus’ teaching is so brilliant. So if that is what you are hearing today, maybe that is indeed what God is saying. That is why we call the bible “the living word” because it says something different to us at different times in our lives.

But I’d like to propose an alternate way to hear this parable. Perhaps it’s not about us and our readiness, but it’s about God and God’s love for soil – all kinds – rocky, thorny, cranky, exposed, vulnerable and the nutrient rich. Haven’t’ we all been these different kinds of soil at different times in our lives anyway?

So maybe with this parable God is not calling us to be good soil but rather to be bad farmers. 2 Instead of carefully choosing where to plant our seeds of love, acceptance and forgiveness, maybe Jesus is inviting us to be a little reckless and is telling us something about God’s lavishness in that God just tosses the seeds on the ground no matter what the soil looks like – whether it is ready to receive or maybe it’s not so ready to receive. Maybe this parable is letting us know that God doesn’t withhold his love from us “until we are ready” but offers it to us without restraint or judgement, no matter our state of mind or heart. Our job is simply to show up and be present and have confidence in the farmer and his wacky ways.

Some of the most stubborn obstacles in growing with intimacy with God are found in all the “shoulds” and “oughts” that we bring to prayer. We think we ought to be that rich well-nourished soil that is ready to receive all that God wants to give us, but we find that we are thorny or rocky in this time in our lives. [1]

For some reason we think we can’t enter into prayer unless we are in the right head space for it. We think that prayer demands that we first shake all the distractions and stress brought by the umpteen things that battle for our attention every moment of the day. We think unless we feel these deep feelings of consolation and are able to muster up the appropriate reverence and attention that God deserves, we can’t even begin to enter into true prayer. 

Though we may faithfully practice all kinds of various forms of prayer – devotionals – meditation – deep down we aren’t really convinced that we are “doing it right” and that our prayer – with all its distractions and missteps isn’t really prayer in the deepest sense.  We aren’t sure we are “effective” in our efforts or that God is even paying attention, because before, during and after our prayer, our distractions and lack of focus remain. 

God for us then becomes like a parent who only wishes to spend time with us when we are at the top of our game – on our best behavior – with nothing to hide – in the proper state of mind to offer the praise and honor rightfully due to God. We treat God as a visitor, a distant figure of authority, someone who we only permit to see us in our most polished state – not someone with whom we “let it all hang out” so to speak. Before we pray we think we need to sweep away all our feelings of boredom, or exhaustion, and try to put out of our mind the anger we have about how our friends or our boss treats us, or how worried we are about our finances and future.  We think these thoughts and feelings are somehow disappointing to God, breaches of our trust in God’s providence and instead we try to muster up all these feelings of reverence, we murmur words of praise and gratitude, but they feel  manufactured… contrived…and, indeed they are just that.

One of the oldest classical definitions of prayer is to “lift our hearts and minds to God” and what we have just described couldn’t be further from this practice. Quite the opposite, this is more like masking the true content of our hearts and minds FROM God. We are trying to lift thoughts and feelings to God that aren’t our own at all – they are contrived and polished, not real and raw. In short, God can not find you where you think you ought to be. 3

So, we need to shake the misconception that we some how have to shape up before we arrive in prayer and rather – fearlessly open ourselves and believe that God welcomes, accepts and loves us without boundary or breaking point just as we are, not as we think we should be. If we really believe that prayer is lifting our hearts and minds to God, then we need to completely stop editing ourselves in prayer and believe that God is big enough to handle any and everything we bring…in all of our humanness….and trust that God is up for the task. We must believe that every feeling and every thought we have is suitable to bring to God in prayer – no matter how irreverent – how full of doubt or anger – no matter how unholy we may deem them to be.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser puts it this way: “If you go to pray and you are feeling bored, pray boredom; if you are feeling angry, pray anger; if you are sexually preoccupied, pray that preoccupation; if you are feeling envious, pray envy; and if you are feeling full of fervor and want to praise and thank God, then by all means pray fervor. The point is, that every thought or feeling is a valid entry into prayer. What’s important is that we pray what’s inside of us and not what we think God would like to see inside of us.”

It would be wonderful if we always felt full of faith, chaste, hopeful, and happy with who we are and all that life has dealt us, but this is not the case, not for a single one of us. Our goal, in a word, is to be transparent. Transparency with God makes it much easier to “pray always” as our scriptures urge us to do because of course this doesn’t mean we should constantly be walking around saying Hail Marys and Our Fathers in our heads all day – nor does it mean we are all called to be full time contemplatives, but rather “praying always” is more like cultivating a certain awareness that you carry with you everywhere you go, in every situation that you face in life. Not unlike the businessman who travels a lot with his work, yes of course he calls home in a concrete way a few times a day, but he carries an awareness of his family everywhere he goes. Even amid his busy schedule and fast-paced meetings, he still remains anchored in the awareness that he is a husband and a father first and these relationships are the foundation of his life. 

So too with God.  God is not so needy that he needs us to be explicitly thinking of him every minute of the day. Rather to “pray without ceasing” is a way of being in the world, anchored in our relationship with God, aware of the love we are receiving and giving in everything we do.

Author Robert Michel, once said “You must try to pray so that, in your prayer, you open yourself in such a way that sometime – perhaps not today, but sometime – you are able to hear God say to you: `I love you!’  These words, addressed to you by God, are the most important words you will ever hear because, before you hear them, nothing is ever completely right with you, but, after you hear them, something will be right in your life at a very deep level.”

So, maybe today we are simply being asked to open ourselves to receive the seeds of God’s love no matter what kind of soil we may judge ourselves to be and be open to all that God’s wishes to give us.

[1] Much of this reflection is a paraphrase of Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s piece found here:

Bishop Ken Untener once said “If you want to know what we believe listen to what we pray.” For centuries our Mass has offered a highly visual, sensory and symbolic yet concrete means through which we experience the sacred; connecting two levels of reality by imbuing very simple, humble things like water, bread, wine and oil with deep spiritual meaning – so our liturgy is, for our children, early training in imaginative, non-literal, spiritual thinking, fostering an ability to reverence the inexhaustible mystery that God is – what Sofia Cavalletti calls an “interior agility” that is central to all spiritual development.

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