“Tending Emerging Love” by Peter Bankson

April 19, 201515 Altar Easter

The Third Sunday of Easter


Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.                                                    1 John 3:7


This year our Easter theme is an invitation to celebrate emerging love, to nurture new sprouts of joy and hope and caring around us and within us and through us. Last Sunday several of us commented on the planter on the altar table, barely showing bright green sprouts, as a sign of emerging life. Today, a week later, it’s pretty clear that there’s some growing energy here. And last week AS Larry mentioned in the Word for the Children, last week he helped them plant their vegetable garden out back. I can’t wait to see what’s  may be sprouting already!  

Last season, our worship theme was an invitation to see things differently, to hone and spread our spirits like the flock of cranes hovering before the cross, and let ourselves be carried into fresh insight. As the sun rose earlier each day we were ushered into a season filled with new light, a time of anticipation for the emergence of something different. And now, with fresh new leaves and spectacular, if short-lived blossoms filling the air, we are in the midst of a vibrant Spring.

So what’s new? We’ve seen the cherry blossoms before. This is the 88th year of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC! What makes it different this time? And, given all the pain and violence in the world, how can we begin to see things differently so that we can help nurture the emergence of God’s love in fresh ways.

Looking at our little altar garden got me thinking about some different ways to tend the love that is emerging all around us even if it is sometimes hard to recognize. Consider these:

  1. WAIT: The signs of love are all around us, but might not be easy to see.
  2. WATCH & WATER: Tending emerging love takes patience and refreshment.
  3. WEED: When it’s time to focus on the future, we will need to concentrate.

The signs of love are all around us, but might not be easy to see: WAIT

Easter season, after the resurrection and before Pentecost, is a time of waiting; a time when hope may be all we can count on. For me the uncertainty calls up images of the fleeting hope that comes with the arrival – and quick departure of the rich variety of tree blossoms.

This week the petals on the ground reminded me of a poem that I wrote just before Easter in 2001.

Passion Week

Washed by dull, grey rain,

            bright memories of Passion Sunday

                        fade into the wet, black earth.

Mud holds little hope

            for those who have no eyes to see.

Slipping into hopelessness,

            we wait for the denial.

Agony will follow

            just as sure as that black ooze

                        swallows cherry blossom petals.

For hope we have to look beyond the grave.

Around the corner stands a tree

            in fresh, new leaf,

                        drawing life from all that mud.

A bright, clean skirt of petals,

            piled deep enough

                        to give the mud a case of indigestion,

                                    shouts “Alleluia!” to tourists waiting for the bus.

For hope we have to look beyond the grave.

Walking on the Mall in Washington DC

April 11, 2001

Even in tense times like these we can stand with each other in the waiting. We can comfort each other as we wait for love to blossom. Emerging love might not be visible yet, but still putting down roots as we wait together. Waiting together helps sustain us on the Way. As Kate Cudlipp still reminds us, “Thank God we’re in this together.”

Tending emerging love takes patience and refreshment: WATCH & WATER

This week I tried out for the role of one of the bendy guys on the altar table, watching this little garden grow and watering the diverse sprouts as more and more of them leapt into sight. I didn’t do any weeding, because I had no idea what the new shoots might grow into. It was a lesson in patience that seemed to fit the idea of tending emerging love.

But who is in control? For a long time I’ve wondered how seeds know when to sprout. Is it just being warm and wet, or is there something else going on here. This week, as I was pondering my garden metaphor for tending emerging love, my old curiosity was watered by a short article in the latest issue of Scientific American. Titled “The Culture of Germination,” the article reported on some recent research that has identified how some plants can influence the way their seeds live into the future by altering the thickness of their hulls!

But there’s a deeper mystery here: what force of life tells the germ in the seed that the time has come to wake up and start pushing against the hull? We may not think about it very often, but seeds seem to have a mind of their own. How do they know when to sprout? When I planted the altar garden two weeks ago, the weather was right for vegetable seeds, no frost, warmer days, gentle rain. It was easy to believe that any seed planted under those conditions would take off in a hurry, as these have done.

Watching these radishes, and lettuce, and scallions surge toward the light reminded me of a deeper mystery: How does the garlic in our refrigerator know when it is time to sprout? As I thought about the mystery of emerging love I remembered another poem in my small collection, this one from February of 2009.

How Do We Know?

It’s cold in my refrigerator where the garlic lives,

and dark.

The bulb that I’ve kept stored there since September

has been in isolation, cut off from the outside world,

wrapped O so carefully

in that immaculate white robe it made

to keep it clean while growing, out of sight, last summer.

A bulb of garlic is a thing of beauty,

and that’s before we’re open

to the flavor hidden deep within.

My garlic grew into maturity buried in a garden,

wrapped itself in pristine paper,

survived the harvest,

and entered into icy silence in my kitchen. 

Then yesterday, with snow still lurking in the shadows,

I brought it to the light,

Expecting it to give a clove or three

to help the potluck beans contribute more than carbohydrates to the feast.

I was amazed to see that every clove was showing green!

Fresh sprouts were pushing out into the cold. 

Green signs of hope were swelling from that aromatic flesh!

How could it know that Spring was on the way,

that there will be another season fit for growth?

And why can’t I?

I’ve suffered through the winter dark

with not a clue that my malaise would ever have an end.

I worried that some deeply hidden failure,

some shadowy anxiety was robbing me of life and hope.

The garlic, on the other hand, knew better.

It chose to wait,

to keep its life potential wrapped

in acid-free, organic tissue

until the moon turned new

and light began to come again despite the snow.

How does the garlic know

to celebrate that first new moon and spring to life,

committing all her succulence to sprout and root,

to flower and seed, before she builds another bulb next fall?

And one more thing –

I learned from someone who’s a cook

that garlic sprouts are bitter,

that I should cut them out before I use a sprouting bulb.

I wondered if that might be some more hidden wisdom,

a bitter taste might save the sprouts

from foragers – like me – and keep the garlic story growing.

I left them in.

They give the potluck beans

a special kind of lively springtime savor.

Is there a memory in garlic I’ve abandoned in myself?

Is every bulb of garlic somehow linked to “garlic central,”

waiting for the word to sprout?

Is there a lesson here, some gentle guidance

to help my over-educated brain

dare risk a season in the frigid dark,

a faith that even in the isolation,

God will tell me when it’s time to sprout?

Can garlic really be my guide, my muse, my faithful friend?

Peter Bankson

7 February 2009

On Thursday night, as Marjory was fixing dinner, she found a current example that illustrates this plant wisdom. Here’s an onion that spent the winter in a bag of onions in a dark kitchen cupboard, at room temperature. Last time she looked, all the onions in the bag looked like they had all winter, firm and tightly tucked into their shiny, acid-free, organic coats. Then, on Thursday they ALL looked like this:

PRB Sermon 15-04-19

The sprouting understanding, at least for me, is that whether we are thinking about garlic or onions, or community, there’s more going on here than I understand. Yes, I can be helpful, but when it comes to tending emerging love, as much as I need to water, I really need to watch what the Holy Spirit is doing. And with this focus on watching, what can I do to help things grow together?

Another example grew out of Pat’s sermon here last week. In that sermon Pat identified some new sprouts that seem to be emerging from his interest in the renewal at Dayspring. He said:

Some of you know that I am hopeful that Seekers might grow into a sense of partnership with Dayspring Church, partnership with their Silent Retreat ministry and with their Wellspring Ministry. I wrote this sermon with Dayspring in mind. I invite you to listen with Dayspring in mind, or keep in mind any group, organization, church, or community you think has the marks of the Spirit that might make them constructive partners with Seekers. By partnership, I mean a wide sense of caring and responsibility in Seekers for giving and receiving what will help them and us to thrive. I image partnership as pilgrim bands following our own path in a shared way: glad when we come together at the end of a day’s journey, sharing landmarks and lessons learned, sharing spiritual and practical resources that give us heart when our paths are through deep dark valleys, placing a cairn or rocks to mark a good stretch of path.

Later that evening at the Stewards meeting Pat offered this proposal:

Stewards encourages exploration of increased cooperation and collaboration with Dayspring Church, the Wellspring Retreat Center, and the Silent Retreat Mission Group with regular reporting back to Seekers.

The Stewards unanimously affirmed Pat’s initiative.

As I’ve thought about it during the week, this seems like a kind of “watch and water” approach, sharing and supporting an emerging vision at Dayspring while recognizing that we are not in control.

This leads me, finally (!), to some reference to this week’s Scripture lessons.

When it’s time to focus on the future, we’ll need to concentrate: WEED

Here’s the final verse from this week’s Epistle lesson:

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.                                                                                                (1 John 3)

And how long do we wait? How will we know when it is time for us to jump in to make things happen? That’s one of the challenges of the “weeding” part of my little metaphor. In the beginning it isn’t easy to distinguish between the wheat and the tares, between the productive crop and the weeds.

Do the “right” thing. Easier said than done. What IS the right thing? When it comes to tending emerging love, what’s “righteous?” (I mean beyond indignation?) I checked my old dictionary and was reminded that “righteous” means “doing what’s right.” Given our Epistle lesson that sounds pretty circular. But the synonyms gave a bit of insight: moral, or honorable, or pleasing to God.

It seems pretty simple in the garden – wait for the seeds to sprout, then water, and when the time comes to focus on the harvest, weed out the weaker plants to make room for those who will yield more at the end of the season. It’s often a bit more challenging when it comes to policy, or public works, or private enterprise. Or loving your neighbor as yourself.

What IS the right thing to do? How do we decide that it is time to stop doing some things in order to concentrate on others? How will we know when it is time for us to jump in to make things happen? That’s one of the challenges of the “weeding” part of my little metaphor. In the beginning it isn’t easy to distinguish between the wheat and the tares, between the productive crop and the weeds.

In the School of Cristian Living this term we’ve been taking a fresh look at the “Ten Commandments,” using a video series by Sister Joan Chittister. She refers to them not as commandments, but as divine words, “laws of the heart.” The conversation in class has been rich and rewarding. Rather than narrowing down on definitions, we’ve been looking at how doing the right thing, or “tending emerging love,” seems closely tied to living into the reality that we really ARE “all in this together,” and more often than not the loving thing is to help each other make challenging choices about how we spend our lives to weave the fabric of community in ways that include all of God’s Creation. 

As a community we have faced, and are continually facing, the challenge of determining where we need to set our commitments down so we can concentrate in other areas. In the broader culture, decisions about where to spend our time and energy and resources are strongly guided by self-interest and the marketplace. We’re encouraged to take care of “Number 1” first, to compete for the prize, to destroy the invader. Our faith offers us a very different set of values: to love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Part of what it means to be “in this together” is the presence of others who can help us live into our commitments. Those of us who have experience with addictions and the healing power of 12-step programs have some idea of the importance of companionship and community as we face those inner demons. Together we are better able to discern, decide, and then dig into the garden to weed out what is taking water and nutrients but will never produce good fruit.

Part of what it takes to live into, and within, a faith community like this one is the ability to recognize, acknowledge and receive the support of others who share our values. And what might those values be?

As I was continuing my preparation to be a pilgrim next week at Ghost Ranch, focusing on “Desert Listening,” I received a link to last Sunday’s reflection by David Brooks in The New York Times, titled “The Moral Bucket List,” David Brooks is a regular op-ed columnist for the Times, and the author of a new book titled The Road to Character.

Because I was working on this idea of how to describe “doing what is right” in some fresh ways, David Brooks’ “Moral Bucket List” struck a resonant chord. Here’s a VERY BRIEF summary of some of the developmental experiences he has identified as the “moral and spiritual accomplishments” that help people achieve what he calls “an unfakable inner virtue.” That is, the ability and commitment to do the loving thing, the moral thing, the RIGHT thing.

Here’s my short outline of the “Moral Bucket List:”

  1. Learn to be profoundly honest about your own weaknesses.
  2. Build character through confrontation with self-defeat.
  3. Learn to count on redemptive assistance from outside yourself.
  4. Learn the energizing love that reminds you that your true riches are in another.
  5. Find the call within.
  6. Look beyond your self-image “branding” to see suffering as part of a larger narrative.

David Brooks’ Moral Bucket List echoed last Tuesday’s reflection from Richard Rohr. Father Richard has been taking a fresh look at the Apostle Paul, which has been encouraging for me. Last Tuesday he suggested that we come to God not by being strong, but by being weak; not by being right, but through our mistakes. Here’s a part of that reflection:

Another seeming duality which Paul constructs and then beautifully overcomes is the paradox of weakness and strength: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Some call this the spirituality of imperfection, which is really just the Gospel, but which most of Christian history made into an impossible spirituality of “perfection.”

He continues: 

Two of my favorite saints, Francis of Assisi and Thérèse of Lisieux, are grand exceptions to the upward/ascent path of most mainline Christianity. In his earliest biography, Francis is quoted as teaching the friars: “We must bear patiently not being good and not being thought good.” It is a rare insight, as the common assumption is that one primarily needs to “think well of oneself”! Thérèse, who lived just over 100 years ago, teaches the same thing and says it is a “new way.” She called it her Little Way and called herself a “Little Flower” in God’s big garden. This spirituality of imperfection undermines the egoic use of religion for purposes of self-esteem.

Quite simply, [Father Rohr says,] both Francis and Thérèse recognized that you come to God not by being strong, but by being weak; not by being right, but through your mistakes; not by self-admiration but by self-forgetfulness. Surprise of surprises! But it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, because both Jesus and Paul taught it rather clearly. Yet it was just too obvious, simple, and counter-intuitive to be true. This teaching utterly levels the playing field of holiness, so all losers can win–which is everybody–if we are honest. This is pure Gospel, in my opinion, and worthy of being called “good news for all the people” (Luke 2:10)

Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation

“Weakness and Strength, Part I” Tuesday, April 14, 2015


So, where does this all lead me? Here are some thoughts I’ll take with me into the coming week of “desert listening.” I invite you to make them part of your reflection as well.

  • See things differently, beginning with myself.
  • Wait for the sprouts to emerge in unexpected places.
  • Let love grow: water, watch, and weed when I must.
  • And when I need to weed, keep focused on the greater good.

It may well change my life.

When it comes to tending emerging love, looking at our little “altar garden” got me thinking about tending  the love that is emerging all around us, even if it is sometimes hard to recognize.

  1. WAIT: The signs of love are all around us, but might not be easy to see.
  2. WATCH & WATER: Tending emerging love takes patience and refreshment.
  3. WEED: When it’s time to focus on the future, we’ll need to concentrate.


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