Sometimes we forget what we hold in our hands. We overlook the ground that is right beneath our feet. That is the message I hear in this Sunday’s Gospel reading for Lent 4 (Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32).
We most often hear this story in Luke 15 called the “parable of the prodigal son.” Indeed, if we substitute Google dictionary’s synonymous adjectives for “prodigal,” Jesus tells us in this parable the story of a “wasteful, reckless” son who in spite of his wandering ways is welcomed back home by a loving father.
This year, I find myself reading this parable as another spring planting season draws near. Just this afternoon I investigated some sugar snap seeds from two years ago, holding them in my hand and considering whether they were too old and shriveled to bear fruit in this spring’s soil. What is the connection between the parable in Luke 15 and a sugar snap seed? Even in the midst of our Lenten wilderness journeys, because of the persistent blooming of daffodils and the warming of the earth, we anticipate springtime’s persistent promises of fecundity. The earth itself cultivates even during Lent a spirit of faith and hope.
What I hear this year in Luke 15 is an invitation to the two sons in the story–and to each of us–to take time to see, celebrate, and tend to the lavish gardens we hold in our hands and that are seeded in the ground beneath our feet. Why is this important? Another look at Google synonyms for “prodigal” tells the parabolic tale: “generous, lavish, unsparing, extravagant, bountiful.” Those words sound like descriptors for the father who welcomed his wayward son home. Ironic, isn’t it, that the word “prodigal” describes both the one who wanders and the one who welcomes. Perhaps we can consider ourselves and our Lenten journeys in this way as well. Is it possible that we, too, are prodigal–capable both of extravagant wandering and extravagant welcoming? And is it possible that we are called in both our wandering and our welcoming to be more aware of God’s grace in our midst?
This parable invites us during Lent to explore again how God’s grace is prodigal–excessive, even reckless–in its determination to nourish and give growth to wilderness people. The message is powerful and prophetic for a world like ours where too many people are hungry in all the ways people can be hungry and where our forgetfulness and inattention are endangering this ancient garden we call home.
I also hear in this parable a reminder of a gift of liturgical practice. As we journey through Lenten disciplines and practices, we are invited again and again to attend to and celebrate the sacramentality of everyday life, the matter beneath our feet and in our hands that matters.
Beneath Our Feet, In Our Hands
Jack Frost is curled up, napping
In my bones.
Backyard grass crunches, frozen
Beneath my feet.
Summer sunflowers hibernate, silent
In my heart.
Could it be—
When I hold this dried out husk
Springtime rests on wintertide fingertips?
Infinitesimal harbinger of arugula and radishes;
Holder of stories–fields plowed,
Dirt collected under ungloved fingernails.
When tender-strong seedlings
Unfurl from soil-stained shells,
And push through the earth
Gasping for the sun—
Dirt weeps sometimes too,
And calls to us: We are stronger than we imagine.
Justice—in wilderness places—
Freedom—in a kernel—
An orchard redeemed—blossoming
Sweet succulent promises of life overflowing.
So we take our shoes off to
Absorb holy ground nutrients
Beneath our feet.
And we water with salt-seasoned tears
This garden we hold in our hand.
**Photo by Jill Crainshaw