|by Photofarmer, via Wikimedia Commons|
crossposted with No Unsacred Place
Spring is the season of faith.
How’s that, you ask? You’re going to take some grain leftover from last Fall, bury it in the ground, and expect it to feed your family in the coming year. You’re going to trust the lives of yourself and your loved ones to some mysterious process you can’t see and can’t control. You’re going to invest countless hours of labor in planting and tending crops and if things work out perfectly you still won’t have anything you can eat for months. And there’s no guarantee things will work out at all.
Can’t you just see the debate between some of our hunter-gatherer ancestors when the first human decided to plant a garden? You want me to do what? And wait how long? When there’s perfectly good roots and berries and critters out in the woods?
Even if that first garden was very small it still took an act of faith to start it. That’s why Spring and planting are such good examples of what faith is and isn’t.
First, unlike what you will hear from both extremes of the unfortunate and unhelpful war between atheism and religion, faith isn’t about mindlessly affirming and following someone else’s made-up story. Faith is about making observations, noticing patterns, and then making reasonable extrapolations. I doubt very many of us really understand how the potential of a seed grows into a plant, but we know that it does – we’ve seen it happen. Our Stone Age ancestors saw that seeds left on the ground would sometimes sprout. Maybe they performed controlled experiments, but more likely they simply saw it happen enough times and one day one of them said “I bet I can do that.”
Our spiritual and magical work isn’t about buying into someone else’s stories. It’s about seeing what works in Nature, seeing what works with other people, making reasonable projections about how things might work for us, and then having faith that they’ll work for us too even though we can’t be sure.
Spring and planting teaches us that faith isn’t about what you believe, it’s about what you do. It doesn’t matter if you believe seeds will sprout. You may think you’re wasting your time and you’re doing all this work just to make your silly old grandmother happy, but if you plant seeds and water them, they’ll sprout and grow. And conversely, you can “believe in” sprouting all you like and think positive thoughts about crops, but if you don’t plant, then nothing will grow.
Beliefs matter because our beliefs define what we think is possible and therefore what we will or won’t attempt. But when it comes to getting results, what matters most is what we do.
Some Pagans have romantic ideas about agriculture. I grew up on a small farm and learned first-hand the Earth does not give up her bounty with ease. The land has to be cleared and tilled. Seeds have to be planted. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you have to water. Weeds have to be pulled or chopped to keep from choking out your crops. Other animals see your crops as food for themselves – they have to be kept out, scared off, or eliminated. Finally there’s harvesting and preserving, so you’ll have something to eat over the Winter and into next Spring. Growing food is a lot of work!
So is religious and spiritual practice. Meditation, prayer, study and reflection take time and effort. Building healthy communities and caring for each other and our world takes time and effort. Sometimes these activities are immediately rewarding, but most of the time they’re work – planting and tending that will be harvested in the future.
Despite our good, hard work, sometimes we don’t get the payoff we expect. Maybe our seed was bad. Maybe there was a drought. Maybe a hailstorm destroyed our crops before they could mature. Maybe locusts ate them before we could harvest them. When these things happen, it doesn’t mean agriculture isn’t real and it doesn’t mean you’re a lousy farmer! It means the process is big and complex and not entirely within our control.
If our crops fail, we plant again. If our spiritual practices don’t bring the results we want, we keep practicing. Maybe we make some adjustments – less reading and more meditation, or more reading and less meditation. What we don’t do is throw in the towel and go back to spiritual hunting and gathering. The process of spiritual growth is every bit as complex and impossible to control as the process of growing food.
But while we can’t control either process, we can influence them. And we have faith – the faith of Spring, the faith of experience – that if we plant, the harvest will come.
Spring is coming. What will you plant?