Summertime is family time, pandemic or no pandemic. Vacation plans may change, travel may be a challenge. The desire for togetherness, catching our breath, and finding renewal stays strong, whether in our biological families or the ones we form.
This week’s Children & Family resources take a fresh look at families, from Abraham and Sarah’s to our own Kathryn Carroll’s. Summer quiet brings opportunities for contemplation, so in the Adult Practice, Kathy Bozzuti-Jones offers a primer on reading poetry prayerfully. And even when we find time for a welcome retreat, events keep playing out in the world. The Adult Learning and Discovery blog looks at one of Jesus’s best-known parables that speaks to how movements for change take form or fall apart. (Hint: He talks about planting seeds, another thing many of us do in the summer.)
From the Faith Formation & Education team to you and yours: may you find rest, refreshment, and plain old fun!
Director, Faith Formation & Education
- This Sunday
- Adult Learning and Discovery
- Adult Practice
- Children and Families Resources
- Youth Resources
- Song of the Week
To prepare for Sunday, see this week’s readings.
How’s Your Soil?
Bob Scott, Director, Faith Formation & Education
Have you noticed how the Sunday readings have tracked current events with uncanny accuracy? Trinity follows the Revised Common Lectionary, which assigns scripture passages for the liturgical year in three-year cycles. The preacher doesn’t get to pick a verse in response to current events. It can feel uncanny, though, how the Holy Spirit often aligns texts with life.
This week, for example, Jesus introduces the first parable in Matthew with the words, “A sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13:3b). You probably know the story. Some seed falls on the path, where birds eat it, some lands on rocky ground where they can’t take root, until at last the seeds that land on the good soil produce an abundant crop. When his disciples want to know what it means, he provides an explanation (this one time).
Let’s follow the advice of theologian Karl Barth to hold the Bible in one hand (Matthew 13:18–23) and the newspaper in the other:
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart. When people continue to deny the systemic nature of racism and economic inequality, insisting that everyone has an equal chance, and some are just lazy, no amount of evidence and explanation will make a difference. They won’t hear; their hearts won’t change.
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root but endures only for a little while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. These folks read blogs and books by brilliant expositors of our social condition like Michelle Alexander and Robert Reich. They head out to demonstrations and pour their convictions into social media. But when they see that change is hard and slow — two steps forward and one step back, taken over time and with determination — they lose heart and move on to some new enthusiasm.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. Give up privilege? Sure. But wait, does that mean change? What if somebody else gets the promotion? Could I really move out of the gated community? On second thought…
But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. These are the folks, young and old, who open their hearts and eyes, turn around their lives, and do the work before them. Their conviction goes deep, and their lives show the fruits. The justice they seek may not be seen in their lifetime, but in their whole-hearted service and empathetic relationships, the kingdom draws near.
Jesus doesn’t describe these types so we can point fingers at others, but rather to enable our own self-examination. As injustice is laid bare before our eyes (or if we are among those who’ve had no choice but to recognize it for our whole lives), the question is, What kind of soil am I? Some commenters find this passage unfair. They say you can’t change soil. But Google “how to improve garden soil” and Google will cough up one hundred and thirty-three million hits. How many ways are there to improve the soil of our hearts?
All seven steps of the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life will help:
- Learn — about the history of racism and the efforts of those striving for justice, past and present
- Turn — toward the light of love and compassion, willing to change our minds when we learn new things
- Pray — for a heart that is singular in focus (try reading the Sermon on the Mount with this lens)
- Worship — in community to draw inspiration and strength and hope
- Bless — those around you with a listening heart and serving hands
- Go — out to make your contribution, neither being overwhelmed by the size of the work nor neglecting the small opportunities that come our way
- Rest — build Sabbath into your work, so that your ministry will be sustainable and life-giving
Jesus’s twelve disciples never saw the end of their work. But work they did, and they inspired new disciples who’ve carried on to this day. May we be among them.
- Read today’s gospel. How do you see the patterns of response Jesus describes in Matthew 13:18–23 being enacted today?
- What practices help you to keep your soil good? Are there any you’d like to add? Set aside some time each day — it needn’t be long — to focus on that.
Lord, make me good soil. Open my heart to receive the seeds of your kingdom. Give me tears for the suffering of others to water them. Plant, till, nourish, and prune the garden of my life. I pray in the name of the Master Gardener, who with you and the Holy Spirit bring forth the kingdom in season. Amen.
Perfectly Imperfect by Kathy Bozzuti-Jones.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6–7).
Poems for Self-Awareness: A Primer on Reading Poetry Prayerfully
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, Associate Director, Faith Formation & Education
Mary Oliver has written about poetry’s sacred, elemental — even essential — purpose: “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”
Like reading scripture in a prayerful way (also known as lectio divina), reading poetry can be a compelling spiritual practice for people of faith to reflect on their relationship with God. A prayerful method of reading poetry is distinctive in that we don’t skim, scan, or flip through, but rather, we slow way down and rest in God, shifting our mindset from gathering information or seeking relaxation to being open-hearted and receptive. Reading poetry in contemplative posture can sharpen our attention and break us open. It can make us more aware of and present to reality.
It can make us more attentive and receptive to God in reality, transforming our perceptions in ways that also change how we move in and through the world. Reading poetry prayerfully or contemplatively challenges us to focus on savoring the gift of the poet’s expression and letting the words and images work their way into our hearts and minds.
As you may know, Trinity’s weekly spiritual direction group works with poetry as a means for each to reflect on God’s presence, in the present moment and over the course of our daily lives. After a period of quiet guided meditation, followed by reading the poetic selection aloud in various voices, we move into a time of personal journaling, sharing, and mutual support. This kind of sharing is distinct from discussion in that we are honing the skill of deep listening for how another’s experience can deepen our experience of God, rather than listening to respond. Each person engages with the chosen poem personally, prompted by the following questions:
- What does this poem have to do with you?
- Is there a message for you in the poem, relating to a struggle or question in your spiritual life?
- Is there an affirmation or insight?
- How does the poem stretch you?
- Does it nourish your relationship with God in some way?
If you have a daily home prayer or meditation practice, you might try working with these reflection questions for a poem of your choice. Here are some gems to inform your spiritual life and growth: “Cutting Loose” by William Stafford, “Love After Love” by Derek Walcott, “Fighting the Instrument” by Mark Nepo, “A New National Anthem” by Ada Limon, “Don’t Hesitate” by Mary Oliver, “Gloves” by Jose Angel Araguz, “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me” by Lucille Clifton, “The Fountain” by Denise Levertov, “Now is the Time” by Hafiz, “The Journey” by David Whyte, “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon, “Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton, and “Against Certainty” by Jane Hirshfield.
The Great Family
Kathryn Carroll, Interim Program Manager, Children and Families
I hope you’ve seen the Godly Play story of The Great Family in Family Worship: Home Edition this week. It is one of my all-time favorites and its “essential language” which is used in all Godly Play stories has become essential to the way of love that I have adopted over the years. I think it’s a story for the ages, and all ages. It is universal and personal, a model for spiritual and human odyssey. As such, no explanation is sufficient or necessary. But those of us who have come close to this story might have one:
I was in one of the first waves of Korean adoptees to American families. There were a few clusters of these families scattered around the states, but I didn’t know any until middle school. My parents’ mantra was, “There are many ways to form a family.” For about half of my life I didn’t get the depth of that word — form. I was uncomfortable talking about or even thinking about anyone’s family lineage, much less mine. All I knew until then was that I belonged to a family, but there always seemed to be an asterisk. That asterisk was expressed differently by everyone I encountered, and it always boiled down to “other.” The worst was the pity. If not for that, it would never have occurred to me that some people considered my family an aberration. My family is my family and that’s that! Then I learned about Abraham and Sarah and their Great Family. It all comes down to this: the ways to form a family are God’s ways of love.
Family Worship: Home Edition
See Family Worship: Home Edition to see this week’s activity for children and families.
What can you create that reminds you that God is wherever you are? This Sunday, we will focus on worship, this week’s Way of Love practice. When Abraham and Sarah were on their long journey, what did they do to mark the places where they stopped to worship God? Please join us Sunday at 10am! RSVP to Kathryn Carroll at KCarroll@trinitywallstreet.org.
Each week, we’ll share a song of the week to help you go deeper with each Sunday’s theme. The playlist will be updated weekly, and the song of the week will sit on top.