Skip to main content

faith like a mustard seed

That's a mustard seed in the palm of my hand.
The dot right in the middle. Live long and prosper.
This is the story of a mustard seed.  On January 22, 2013, as part of a spiritual formation course I was teaching (based on the book, The Good and Beautiful God) a small group of us planted mustard seeds.  It was an activity which was supposed to help demonstrate the nature of faith.  I provided small plastic cups, black earth (not rich, extra nutrified potting soil, but just simple black dirt), and mustard seeds.  Most people took 2 or 3 or 4 seeds, just to make sure that at least one of them would sprout.  I opted for just one lone mustard seed, buried it in its black grave, watered it, and set it in a window which caught the afternoon sun in the middle of a Montreal winter.

It sprouts! 5 days after planting.
Within 5 days, a wee sprout popped out of the ground, a welcome sign of life.  I continued to check it almost daily, watering it when it was dry, making sure it was getting enough sunlight, and placing it out of reach of the cat's inquisitive claws and teeth.  We went away for a week in February (a house sitter took care of both the cat and the plant) and after we returned, I forgot to check on the mustard plant for a few days.  When I finally took a look at it, the soil was dry but the plant looked green and healthy. Phew!  And it had grown quite a bit in my absence.  In fact, it soon outgrew its spot in the narrow windowsill.  I moved it to a ledge which received indirect sunlight from a high window (there are not that many places in my house which get sun and are out of reach of the cat).  In the next few days I noticed that the edges of the leaves were starting to yellow and wilt.  It became obvious that the plant had outgrown the small plastic cup.

About 4-5 weeks old.
I transferred it to a slightly larger pot and it perked up within a few days, happy for the extra breathing room and nutrients in the additional soil.  The plant continued to grow at a good pace and soon I could tell that it was getting too big for the small pot; it started to look top-heavy, its leaves and stalk thin and elongated, as if it were stretching toward something.  I urged it to hold on for another month until I could transplant it outside.

In the middle of May, I took the gangly, overgrown plant and pulled it out of its small clay pot. It was not a gentle removal by any means.  There is just no way to remove an impacted root-dirt bundle from
a solid clay pot without it breaking into many little pieces. The messy transplant complete, I wondered how the little plant would fare.  After a few days outside in bracing cold temperatures (I even had to pull it inside one night to avoid frost), the leaves began to wither.  I speculated that I had killed it, but a tiny new leaf shoot appeared at the centre which gave me hope.  Within a week, all the old, big leaves had pretty much withered away, so I pulled them off and left just the few tiny, new leaves.  The plant was only a tenth of its former size. Disappointing in some ways.  Then we had a week of rain.  Much to my amazement, the plant seemed to thrive in the constant cloud and wet.  It grew exponentially, becoming a lush, thick, green plant, its foliage beginning to look like large lettuce leaves.

Transplanted to the small clay pot.  New spot to grow.
Today the sun is out and the wild, wondrous plant is basking in the warmth.  Yesterday I discovered a few holes in some of its leaves and saw a few ants crawling around; they looked quite guilty and fat.  I put some ant repellent on the pot today and hopefully that stops the freeloading ants.

Often I just stand and look at the mustard plant on my balcony and think of Jesus' words to the disciples after they asked him why they were unable to drive out a particularly nasty demon: He replied, "Because your faith is much too small.  What I'm about to tell you is true.  If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it is enough.  You can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there.' And it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you."  (Matthew 17, NIV).  

In light of these puzzling words, here are a few observations I have made in my experience with a mustard seed/plant which seem to have something in common with faith.  

1. It is embarrassingly small to begin with.  Really, one can hardly see it.  But smallness has very little to do with its potential and ability to grow.
2. I cannot make a seed (faith) grow, but I do have to feed it, protect it, tend it, and care for it. I cannot neglect it or it will die.
After being transplanted outside, 4 months old.
3. Patience is necessary.  The plant (faith) does not reach its potential overnight or even in a few weeks. Just a bit of sun, just a bit of water, just a cup full of dirt, and every day it grows just a little bit.
4. The seed (faith) is pretty hardy. Though I might forget about it for a few days and conditions might not always be the best, it still keeps growing.  A few setbacks will not kill it.
5. Room to grow (change) is necessary.  Though transplanting can be hard on the wee plant, it will become unhealthy if left in the small, safe environment in which it sprouted.  Every time the plant (faith) is provided with a new, bigger place to grow, it expands, it gains extra nutrients, its roots can stretch out and provide a firmer base, and it becomes stronger.  
6.  A new environment impacts the plant's (faith's) growth. Stress can cause the old leaves (familiar ways) to wither away, but if the roots are in good shape, new leaves will spring up to take their place.  Regeneration and regrowth are part of a normal growth process.  Prune the old, dying leaves to provide more room for new growth.  
7.  What is above ground (leaves) reflects how well the seed (faith) is doing below ground.  Dry leaf edges, yellow leaves, holes in the leaves, and wilting leaves all reflect that there is a problem.  If one does not pay attention to these problems when they first arise, the plant (faith) will end up in serious trouble.
8. Rain, not sun, is what causes the plant (faith) to have a growth spurt.
9. Growing a plant (faith) has less to do with sheer willpower and stamina and more to do with wonder and loving tenderness.

Perhaps you have a few observations of your own.  Feel free to share them.  

Still growing.


Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

building the church

Imagine two scenarios: 1) Give every person in the room a popsicle stick. Ask them to come together and put their sticks onto a table. Invariably, you end up with a random pile of sticks on a table. 2) Give every person in the room a popsicle stick. Show a picture of a popsicle stick bird feeder and ask people to come together and put their sticks on a table according to the picture. You will end up with the beginnings of a bird feeder on a table.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both, each person brought what they had and contributed it to the collective. However, in the first scenario, there were no guidelines, no plan, and no right or wrong way to pile the sticks. People came, placed their sticks on the table, and walked away. In the second scenario, people were given a plan to follow and as a result, something specific was built. Instead of walking away after they made their contribution, people huddled around the table to watch what was being built. Some were…