Before or after you read this commentary on this week’s Sabbath School lesson I recommend perusing what Spectrum columnist Matthew Quartey wrote this week. He identifies three key problems in the crucible-focused lessons this quarter and concludes with this plea for something better:
It is important what sort of God we portray in the Sabbath School lessons. Millions of church members throughout the world believe that, if it is published in the quarterlies, then it must be true. This is an unfortunate reality we should contend with as a global church. If we are careless in how we present God in church teaching, we can then plant erroneous views about him that risk seeping into members’ world views. If authors project a reckless and callous God, we risk internalizing such tyranny and reflecting it in our homes and other social settings. Because we change into what we uncritically behold.
This week the quarterly continues its power of negative thinking approach. Monday’s lesson is, “Dying Comes Before Knowing God’s Will.” It states, “When areas of our lives are not completely dead to self, God permits crucibles to bring them to our attention. However, our suffering not only helps us confront our sin—but it also gives us an insight into Jesus’ giving Himself up for us.”
The lesson goes on from there, but I did find a moment of life giving hope in the memory verse for this week. The Message version of John 12:24 states, “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
I like this more organic seed metaphor—burial and rebirth. Not death. More like hibernation. A pause in the conscious order of things. Ego death which allows for new births. Plural. A connection to love eternal. Burial of the self for a deeper purpose.
In an article titled, “We Are Seeds” on the Radical Discipleship blog, Ric Hudgens writes:
I am thinking about people who live their lives as if they were seed.
The Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos (1931-2020) wrote in 1978: “what didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.” (translated by Nicholas Kostis).
Young Mexican activists started a movement using a similar phrase in 2013 after 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Mexico: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”
Even Jesus of Nazareth had said something similar 2,000 years ago: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
We often think in metaphors about human life and the living of our own lives. Kirstie Pursie offers seven that are common: climbing a mountain, taking a journey, tending a garden, building a house, a race, a battle, a prison. (Kirstie Pursie, “7 Metaphors for Life: Which One Better Describes You and What Does It Mean”, Learning Mind, March 20, 2019). All of these are illuminating. There is probably a metaphor (or several) hidden in your life.
But today, I want to think about just one. Whether we can choose our life metaphors or must come to terms with them is a different question. Talk to your therapist, pastor, girlfriend, or drinking buddy. Today I want to think about living as if we are seeds.
Seeds are valuable in more than one way, of course. What appears good to a bird may appear quite different to a farmer. To a farmer, what matters is a seed’s planting value. Is it live seed or dead seed? Only live seed will plant and grow.
But basic to all seeds (eaten by a bird or planted by a farmer) is that we discover their value when we plant them—when they stop being seeds.
Planting begins a process of breaking apart, changing, growing. Seeds that get planted don’t remain seeds. They don’t feel safe anymore.
Some seeds need fire to break them open. There are plants called pyrophiles. They need fire to reproduce. Sometimes we need a symbolic fire to introduce the change we are hesitant to embrace. It’s not unusual for some unwanted change to introduce something positive.
The joke goes: Someone asked their doctor, “Doctor, am I going to die?” and the doctor said, “That’s the last thing you’re going to do.” While our death is certain, it is also part of a natural process of decay and renewal. Our bodies are part of a natural process.
When Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies” he was mixing a metaphor. Seed doesn’t actually die. But maybe you and I need a type of death to break us apart. Unless something dies, the decay and renewal process cannot continue. In the natural world, decay always leads to renewal of some kind.
When you feel buried, remember you are a seed. And now, on that theme of renewal, one doesn't need to wait for crucibles or even death to find new horizons. For those willing to try something a little outside the Adventist box, here is a guided meditation that focuses on seeds and gratitude.
Art: Grant Wood, Seed Time and Harvest, 1937.