“And some seed fell on good soil, and when it grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold.” Luke 8:8
St. Theresa of Avila said something to the effect that God has no hands, no feet, no voice in this world except ours and through these He works. I’m sure some will interpret that literally and will object. Some Christians will point to Scripture — God’s Word, his voice in this world. Some Catholics will point to the Sacraments — God’s action in our lives.
As literal as I can be at times, when I first read that, I didn’t think of either of those objections. I simply responded, “Yes! Let that be me! Let me be your hands, your feet, your voice in this world.” This “Yes” led me to engage in activities which would deepen my relationship with God, such as meditating on Scripture and keeping a spiritual journal. It also motivated me to volunteer for tasks which would allow me to share my understanding of God, such as teaching religious education and leading retreats.
Fifteen years later, my understanding of that call has changed. I’ve come to appreciate the Ignatian idea of God in all things, and have come to realize that to be God’s hands, his feet, his voice, we have to understand that he is present in ways infinitely beyond our human capacity to understand, present in birdsong and joy, in winds whipping across the waters and pain, present — always present.
And in that presence, he calls us always to make choices for life — choices that bring to life inside us all the gifts he has given us, choices that affirm his goodness in ways that send ripples into the world. Those ripples are his hands, his feet, his voice because they emanate from his action in our lives.
I think the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:3-9, Luke 8:5-8) can help us do this.
Some seed fell on the path; it was trampled and birds of the sky ate it up. Whenever we trample upon the rights of others or take from them what they need, we are failing to choose life. This has tremendous political and economic ramifications, but it has deeply personal implications as well. We must look at our lives with both charity and honesty to see if this dynamic is at work in any way. If it is, and we allow it to continue, we are conspiring to silence God.
It does happen. I worked for more than seven years for a woman who took credit for my accomplishments and blamed me for her mistakes. I had numerous reasons for staying, some better than others, but with the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight I can see the damage I did to myself and to those whose lives touched mine by failing to recognize that I was not in a place where I could put down roots, blossom and bear fruit.
Some seed fell on rocky soil and withered for lack of moisture. Different scenario, same results. Sometimes, an opportunity looks good, and we jump in with both feet, but it doesn’t work in the overall scheme of our lives. For me, personally, that means any new endeavor must be balanced with time for prayer, time to write, time to paint and some opportunities for social interaction. Without those activities, something inside me withers and dies.
That is not what God wants for me. If I am to be his hands, his feet, his voice, I must be alive inside and out! Only that which lives can bear fruit, and only with the fruit that our lives bear can we reflect God into the world. It’s that simple.
Some seed fell among the thorns which choked it. Our lives can be choked in so many ways. Some ways are obvious: abusive people choke the lives out of those around them by in stilling fear and by undermining self-esteem. But we can be choked in subtle ways as well. When someone we love is critical of our choices, because their expectations are different than our dreams, we lose confidence in ourselves and in our dreams. That, too, prevents our lives from bearing fruit that reflects God into the world.
We have a responsibility, a moral obligation, to seek rich soil, soil in which we can put down roots, grow, blossom and bear fruit. That is not to say we should immediately throw away everything that doesn’t work in our lives. Instead, we should begin by looking at our lives and seeking to understand what is preventing us from putting down roots and moving toward fruitfulness. Then, we should begin moving in the direction of life, trusting in the step-by-step process God’s life-giving presence.
I needed to have the courage to walk away from an employer whose choices choked me, even if it meant working in a convenience store while getting my bearings. I needed to appreciate the way God nourishes me not only with his Word and the sacraments, but also at the easel, and to make a commitment to creating art. I needed to make these decisions and others to find rich soil, but I think I have found it — and I am grateful. In my gratitude, I can only desire for others this blessing I have come to know.
Be God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s voice in this world — seek rich soil.