“Fragile and Fertile”
Those are the words that keep showing up in my notes to churches as I end my greetings with something along the lines of “Know that my prayers are with you in this fragile and fertile time.”
The combination is intentional. Over the years, I have discovered that my most transformative work has occurred when working with people and congregations who find themselves in a fragile position. At the same time, some of my most difficult work has come in working with people and congregations who say they want growth and transformation, but who are essentially comfortable with the status quo. Getting change when people are essentially comfortable, even when they say they want change, is almost impossible!
I remember the annual tradition from my childhood when I first learned about the relationship between fragility and fertility. My dad was locally famous for his over-sized garden in our small suburban backyard plot. My dad grew up on a farm and even when we moved to a cookie cutter neighborhood, he was not able to part with the large garden that supported his family of ten as a child. That garden (that really was the envy of the neighbors) took up over a third of our backyard and was 900 square feet of corn, beans, radishes, lettuce, squash, kohlrabi, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beets, and strawberries.
But I dreaded the spring every year as I my dad drug me out of bed Saturday mornings to till the soil. Shovelful by shovelful we turned over that soil, broke it up and took what was a hard concrete-like bed of soil and turned it into a rich crumbly layer of earth ready act like a womb for waiting seeds. Only later did he learn that a rototiller was just as effective and took one-tenth of the time. But he didn’t discover that in time for me to enjoy lazy Saturday mornings in bed.
I remember to this day that lesson from the earth. Had we tried to plant seeds in the non-receptive hardened soil that emerged from winter snows very few of the seeds my dad threw out would have sprouted. It was only after loosening up the soil, breaking up the clods, and creating a fragile and fertile bed of soil did we have a garden where seeds would grow and sprout and produce. That rich culture of summer goodness only emerged after breaking up the culture of hardened soil.
Of course, this isn’t news to those of us who rely on the stories of the Bible to guide us. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 tells the same story. A farmer went out sow the annual seed. Some of the seed fell on hardened dirt (like the dirt in our garden every spring) and the birds quickly ate it. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, sprouted quickly but withered in the sun. Some of the seed fell among the thorns and was choked out. Some of the seed fell on soil that had been tilled and broken up and it produced a garden just like my dad’s garden! Rich and full and abundant!
We all know that this is a fragile time. But in the same breath I cannot help but add that this is also a fertile time. I am convinced that the two go together. It was the lesson that I learned as a child as I was forced into the backbreaking work of tilling the soil shovelful by shovelful every spring. It was the lesson I learned in working with juvenile delinquents many years ago—the more fragile they felt about their lives the more they were open to growth and change. It was the lesson I learned in congregations—fragility and fertility almost always go hand in hand.
Know that my prayers are with you in the fragile time.
And know that I will help you take advantage of this fertile moment.
It’s important that we don’t let a good crisis go to waste.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades