SPIRITUALITY TODAYRobert S. Stoudt:
Winter 1989, Vol. 41 No. 4, pp. 341-358.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
A Spiritual Exercise
By allowing natural symbolism to open our minds and hearts to the mysteries of Creation, we learn imaginatively what Jesus means by the Kingdom of God.
Rev. Robert S. Stoudt received his doctorate from Lancaster Theological Seminary, where he concentrated on classical mystical literature and spiritual development. Currently he is a pastor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He has contributed to various magazines and journals, including Review for Religious, The Thomist, and Living Prayer.
The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear (Mark 4.26-28).IN these succinct, evocative verses, Jesus reveals, on one hand, that perhaps the best way to communicate meaningfully about the Kingdom of God is elliptically, symbolically; and on the other hand, that among the most meaningful symbols related to the Kingdom are those drawn from nature itself.
Both of these points comprise the general background for this article, which outlines a spiritual exercise specifically fashioned on the above Marcan text. The exercise consists of a series of four sessions, which together constitute an organic whole. Each component possesses an integrity of its own, but also a fundamental relationship to the others. The model presented here represents a much broader spectrum of spiritual enrichment, where deliberate use is made of Scripture and the human imagination. The cumulative intent of this particular exercise is to provide personal experience suggesting something of what the Kingdom might mean in personal terms today.
SPEAKING OF THEORY
Before describing the exercise itself, certain theoretical points warrant consideration. The first has to do with the essential place of mystery at the heart of our faith. It is understandable that we should attempt to apply to faith the same rational, intellectual approach that we typically employ elsewhere in our lives. After all, in Western society we are consistently and thoroughly trained in that approach through the course of our education, formally and otherwise. Our culture expects that from us as responsible, predictable members, and we deliver it to demonstrate our personal reliability and trustworthiness, and to establish and advance ourselves professionally.
The significance of rational and intellectual pursuit carries over into matters of religion where dogma and theology are the result. These reason-driven, verbal-oriented formulations are the means of articulating, defining, and defending the faith. But behind the distillations of creed and catechism, there is something at work distinctly different from the logical and the objective. In the act of faith, the black-and-white obviousness of empirical truth ultimately breaks down and is eclipsed by something fundamentally elusive and unfathomable, something that defies analysis and categorization.
Faith, in short, requires other than rational skill and prowess. Faith entails standing helplessly, nakedly, naively before this Mystery at the heart of reality. It means acknowledging consciously the final poverty and bankruptcy of the rational foundations which we have labored so strenuously to develop and to which we ordinarily cling with such tenacity. And in the light of that assent, it also means confessing to the personal need of learning a new language, a language of the "illogical" and the "irrational." That language, the rudimentary language of faith, the language of mystery, is basically symbolic.
Jesus does not speak in parables merely to aggravate his various detractors or to bewilder those outside his trusted band of disciples. Rather, he speaks parabolically, especially where the Kingdom is concerned, because symbolic communication is the only manner which can express or receive the extraordinary truths related to it.
Needless to say, not all understand what Jesus is talking about. Various misunderstandings are largely due not to Jesus' intention to be abstruse or deceptive but to his audience's inability to hear at the symbolic level. "He who has ears to hear, let him hear;" Jesus is cited as saying on more than a few occasions. The exhortation obviously is not to be taken literally. If one had no physical means of hearing anything, there would have been little point in attending the town meeting where Jesus was teaching. But if one possessed the physical ears to hear the words but lacked the "spiritual ears" with which to grasp the meaning of those words, then one would have ears and yet simultaneously lack ears.
To listen isn't necessarily to hear. To listen strictly with the ears of the scholar or the scientist is to be dumbfounded and frustrated by Jesus' parabolic language. Why, they might argue, doesn't the man just say what he means? To listen with the ears of the poet or the mystic, however, is to hear and know that he is saying exactly what he means. It is in the interest of our regaining this spiritual acuity that this particular exercise is offered.
Granting that faith is mysterious and that the language of mystery is characteristically symbolic, the second theoretical point pertains to the mediating efficacy of symbols, especially symbols derived from nature. This efficacy is related to a fundamental correspondence between the mysteries of the natural order and those of the spiritual order. The natural and the spiritual remind us of one another. They somehow participate in each other. They evoke one another. Generally speaking, nature, like the Spirit, abounds with fertile spontaneity, raw energy, and variegated potentiality. Both are grounds from which life, irresistibly, inexplicably, bursts forth, according to its own intrinsic dictates. Jesus chooses to communicate something of the inexpressibly marvelous Kingdom of God by deliberately associating it with nature's equally marvelous experience of a seed's growing. His intuitive connecting of the two is intended to suggest that, as one mystically appreciates the natural phenomenon, one comes, at the same time, to appropriate something of the metaphysical reality. Mystery, it would seem, is intimately correlated to mystery.
Imagine, for example, gazing lazily at a pond, when suddenly a fish breaks the still surface of the water and leaps into the air. Out of the corner of the eye, one witnesses the quick shine of scales, the immediate splashing back into the water, and the rippling from the epicenter. The whole, unanticipated event is over in a fraction of a second, leaving one with only the vaguest notions as to what sort of fish it was, why it jumped at all, whether it will do so again, and, if so, where that next appearance might take place. Gripping questions, not clear answers, populate one's jolted mind. Reason is largely silenced through its own inability to be of real assistance, and surprise and expectant fascination instead fill one's consciousness. In those extraordinarily simple and arresting moments, one merely waits to see what will happen next.
For those with "the spiritual eyes that see," through this completely natural experience, something is simultaneously communicated of the Holy itself. Through the natural order, one can gain intuition of and access to a deeper, interior order of things. It is a realm where an equally wonderful, elusive, and mysterious Life dwells, in psychological or spiritual terms, "beneath the surface." It is a Life which also can instantaneously, unexpectedly break into view. It does so, of course, similarly reminding us of its usually invisible reality. Then it disappears into the darkened depths as swiftly as it had originally leaped into view, camouflaged once more from the probing eye of the arrogant and the merely curious alike, leaving behind for a few, fleeting, residual moments only its undulating after-effects. As before, there is the sense of fascination coupled with mystery: What sort of life was it? What prompted it to reveal itself at that precise instant or in that precise manner? Will it do so again? Where, and how?
Such is the revelatory efficacy the natural symbol enjoys. As spiritual literature richly demonstrates, mystics of every generation, in virtually every religious tradition, have always understood that. By virtue of fundamental correspondence, nature is a principal avenue into the Transcendent. And symbol, by virtue of its innate non-rational or meta-rational character, is a primary means by which to encounter that Transcendent. It is a lens by which the world is viewed in all its mystical transparency. Providing such personal encounter is the whole intent of its mediatory function. The symbol serves as a potent, experiential link between humanity and Divinity, between the human and spiritual orders, between this world and the Kingdom of God. In the imaginative scenario suggested above, the eye saw the streak of an ordinary fish, but the heart glimpsed, however imperfectly, and experienced, however vaguely, something of its own extraordinary Source and End.
For those with the willingness and the capacity to discern it, the natural order concretely translates spiritual to the human senses. The universe is pervasive with God's presence and messages. So, in his parable, Jesus speaks of grain, but it is not really grain which is his focal-point. Through that mundane image, however, he radically arouses his hearers and invites them to know the Kingdom for themselves. The movement from a speck of grain to the experience of eternity is indeed a quantum leap, akin to slipping through some black hole in consciousness and travelling into some exotic, parallel universe that has been there unnoticed all the time. In Jesus' disarmingly simple discourse, through the image of growing corn, God's Kingdom powerfully presses upon the human mind and unmistakably stirs and lays claim to the human heart.
THE EXPERIENCE -- AN OVERVIEW
Given the limitations of the rational, the four sessions that follow are designed to be more experiential than discursive. It is not their purpose simply to bring people together to brainstorm ideas or debate opinions. As the speechlessness of Jesus' hearers suggests, mere conversation would be counterproductive and perhaps even contradictory to the process of enabling persons to know the Holy for themselves. Conceptualizing about it is hardly the same thing as beholding it. Accordingly, it is the aim here to guide people, in a very broad and gentle manner, into a personal exposure to and involvement with their own inner, spiritual realities, where, it is assumed, something of the Kingdom will reveal itself.
The process, which consists of four individual parts, can be administered in at least two different ways. It can be presented one vignette after another over the course of a single, two-to- four hour sitting. Or it can be carried out, one vignette at a time, over, say, four days or four weeks. The advantage of the former method is that it is easier to maintain the flow from one story unit to the next, due to the relatively brief period of time that intervenes. The advantage of the latter is that spreading the experience out deepens the impact of each separate vignette. When there is a day or more between sessions, one frequently discovers an ongoing percolating related to the previous visualization experience, as it continues to work subliminally. Experimentation with this process in both manners has yielded equally good results.
Following each of the periods of the exercise, it is also desirable to provide some opportunity for the participants to jot down a few personal notes about what has just taken place. Over the short term, such note-taking facilitates immediate recalling and focusing of the experience while it is still fresh in one's mind. Over the long-term, it constitutes a more permanent record of first-hand data for ongoing spiritual reflection. Both keep the primary experience from being "forgotten" and therefore effectively lost to consciousness.
A final feature concerns the sharing times built into the conclusion of each vignette. Although the process is aimed primarily at helping persons connect with their own inner resources, sharing assists "owning" and better assimilating what has just been experienced. Verbalizing tends to reinforce remembering of it. Further, it is not unusual in the course of sharing, for new insights related to the experience to arise suddenly, serendipitously into one's awareness. Without that extemporaneous, stream-of-consciousness sort of articulating, these additional graces from within might well never be recognized.
Personal sharing also allows individuals to benefit vicariously from the encounters of others. Sometimes hearing another's experience breathes the sense of ratification, consolation, and clarity into one's own. Someone else's sharing can also afford insight into one's own visualization, in an intriguing sort of spiritual cross-fertilization. It is not unusual to observe smiles stealing across faces or a head or two nodding in assent on the part of quiet listeners, as though some subtle truth had somehow been secretly communicated from one mind or heart to another.
But participants should understand that while they are invited to share, they do not have to share. That is the first ground-rule for the sharing-times. It is far more important for an individual to experience meaningfully than to share eloquently at length what has transpired. The second ground-rule is equally important. Since there is no such thing as a "right" or "wrong" experience, there is no need for anyone else to challenge, to question, or otherwise interrupt the flow, except, perhaps, to share at the appropriate time. Whatever has been seen or heard or felt is meaningful and valid for the individual, and that is what matters, whether or not others in the group understand or agree with his or her interpretation of that meaning. The role of the listener is simple attentiveness. No response is either asked for or required. The period of sharing, consequently, is rather free-form, with sometimes protracted gaps of silence occurring between personal disclosures. Insofar as these silent spaces enable the participants to rest reflectively for a moment in what has just been shared, these pregnant moments of quiet themselves contribute to the total impact of the experience, a powerful wedding of the outer and the inner.
The experience begins with an invitation to relax -- through neck rolls or shoulder-shrugs, deep-breathing, stretching exercises, soft music, or anything else that contributes to this end. Some time spent in helping participants to relax is essential to the success of the process. The imagination is hard-pressed to communicate itself with easy vividness where people are knotted with stress and tension. The more relaxed they become, physically and mentally, the more spiritually productive the series of guided meditations will be.
The leader next guides the group through the four visualization experiences, one at a time. Participants are invited to afford their logical minds a sort of sabbatical and instead to give free expression to the extravagantly wonder-filled, spontaneously gift-bearing imaginative faculties. They are encouraged to attend to each scene as receptively and as vividly as possible, neither attempting to control it nor strenuously restricting themselves to it. Wherever, on the basis of the leader's suggestions, they feel their imaginations leading them, they are to go, willingly, expectantly, waiting and watching and listening.
During a time of silence following the guided meditation period participants are encouraged to jot down a few notes, reflect, think, and pray. All this serves as raw material for the sharing time, which should last as long as people desire to share. When the sharing has drawn to a natural close, the leader initiates the subsequent vignette by inviting all to close their eyes and relax again, in preparation for the next leg of their inner journeys
Following, then, are the four sessions comprising this particular spiritual enrichment model. Each is derived in part from the parable with which this article began. Each is also related to the natural rhythms of season or day, rhythms which symbolically correspond to distinct stages in personal development: 1) spring, or the early morning, 2) summer, or late morning/early afternoon, 3) autumn, or late afternoon/early evening, and 4) winter, or the night phase. Suggested texts for the vignettes are followed by some responses of participants who have undertaken this process. These comments (printed here with permission) are intended only to illustrate the sorts of responses commonly encountered.
THE FIRST SESSION: FROM GOD WE GROW
Following the relaxation techniques, the leader guides the group through the first visualization exercise. As in each of the vignettes, this is done very slowly.
In the first vignette, one finds oneself at dawn, at spring. The text for the guided meditation is as follows:As you continue to relax, as you allow your imagination to see what I am suggesting and yet also to float about freely, I invite you to picture yourself as a seed. You are a seed, a very good and very special seed, one that has only recently been planted. You are still hard-kerneled and brown, but you have been carefully selected and lovingly planted in exactly the right place in the ground. Take a few minutes and see what you know about the ground around you -- how dark or light it is in color, how dry or damp it is, how fertile or sterile it is, and so on. Can you get any personal impressions about how it feels to be planted there? How does the soil feel about you? .... Turning your attention now from the ground in which you are planted, gently direct it, if you can, to your little seed-heart, so to speak. Feel the encouragement that you are receiving from the soil around you to begin turning your color from brown to green, to crack your outer husk and leave it behind, to feed off that shell as a means of becoming something new and fresh. Perhaps you can even see or feel a tiny green finger slowly beginning to creep out of that hard kernel and reaching into the soil above it. Perhaps you can sense yourself beginning to germinate there in that supportive, encouraging darkness .... Perhaps you can feel your tiny roots beginning to form at the bottom, providing support and nourishment for you, stability and food and drink ' for you, as you push towards the sunlight above you. Can you sense your roots? Rest in that sense. Fill yourself with this experience. Discover for yourself all that you can about what it is like to be a seed like you, coming to birth in the ground.One participant, following the brief writing period, related,I had no difficulty imagining that I was a seed. I often see myself as just starting out, so the seed-image felt very comfortable to me. I was aware of the soil being very dark and very rich around me. The one thing that particularly impressed me was how loose it was. I really don't like tight, cramped places, so when I discovered that the soil was not very tightly compacted, I breathed a real sigh of relief I was also very aware of being drawn through the soil, almost dragged through it. Because of all the darkness, I couldn't be sure which way was up and which way was down, but whatever it was that was drawing me through the ground, it knew. In the end I discovered myself poking through the ground-line and catching my first rays of sunshine. Boy, was that stimulating!Another said,The thing that struck me the most was the realization that everything that was there around me -- the ground, the nutrients and the moisture in it, the sunshine above me -- was there to motivate me to sprout. At first I thought that this sprouting was an amazing thing... but the more I experienced it, the more I thought that it would have been more incredible if I had not sprouted. I have the sense that there is virtually no way that I cannot sprout. That's something I'm going to have to think about a little more, because I'm not sure what that means in terms of my life.A third similarly revealed,What really caught my attention was the irrepressible potentiality or impetus for life which rested in that seed. While all the other environmental conditions are necessary for its bursting forth, life itself belongs not to the ground, not to the water or nourishment in that ground, but to the seed itself. The environmental factors serve only to evoke what is already resident within the seed. Whatever that life-force is, it, at the same time, is and is not the seed. It is part of what the seed is, but it comes from beyond the seed, if you know what I mean. I don't know how else to say it than that way. I was very impressed with the tremendous mystery of this life-force -- how it knows when it's time to grow, how it knows which way to grow ....
THE SECOND SESSION: TO GOD WE GROW
Again, after the participants are relaxed, they are gently, patiently guided through the following vignette, representative of late morning/early afternoon, the summer of the life-cycle:As you continue to relax, floating freely in your imagination, I invite you to return to the seed that you saw the last time. It was a good and very special seed, one that was carefully and lovingly planted in the soil, a seed that the rich ground around it stimulated into life. I invite you to allow that scene to go on unfolding, then, during these moments .... Feel the life-energy in you, sense that inner drive in you that irresistibly facilitates your ongoing development, as your first tender shoot gently, gingerly sprouts through the soil line and into the sunlight. How do you feel? How does it feel to be out in the sunlight? Look around yourself. What do you see? What do you hear? Is there something you can smell? .... I invite you to see yourself now as a slightly older plant, and there are a few leaves on you. You now sport several, deep green, healthy-looking leaves, providing additional energy to your ongoing growth. Feel that energy within you. And feel the tremendous energy beyond you. Sense the power and the warmth of the sunshine above you, a source towards which you are deliberately reaching. The deeper your roots sink into the ground, the more leaves you develop, and the higher you reach towards that incredible, wonderful sun. Fill yourself with the experience of resting and growing in the sunlight. Experience what it means for you as this plant to be developing there in that sunlight.Reflecting on his notes related to this vignette, one participant observed,I never realized the sunlight had so much power! It exhibited an almost magnetic force pulling me out of the ground and up into the air. I was glad I had roots, frankly, so I had something to hold on to. I could actually feel the sun powerfully pulling me right out of the ground and up towards itself. I felt supported and assured and affirmed by that consistent, gentle, tireless pulling on my growing parts. I thought to myself that this is what must be meant by the Biblical saying that 'God is love' God's consistent, gentle, tireless tugging on my growing parts. I heard me saying to myself -- in my little plant voice -- over and over again, 'I shall turn my face to the light'... whatever that's supposed to mean.Another remarked,I was impressed with the diversity of processes that are involved in growth, processes that all occur at the same time -- the deepening of the roots, the strengthening and lengthening of stems, the multiplication of leaves. These things were happening, not one at a time, but simultaneously. Incredible! I was also struck by the relationship between these ingredients: the more mature the plant becomes, the deeper the roots are, and the more it reaches out from itself. I'm sure it must be the same way with people.A third participant shared simply but poignantly,I realized that I am not alone, after all! I emerged alone from the soil, but there are others, I soon discovered! Some have been waiting for me, and others are coming along behind me. I am not alone, after all!
THE THIRD SESSION: FOR GOD WE GROW
Once again, the session begins with some relaxation techniques and continues with a guided meditation reminiscent of the late afternoon/early evening or autumn of the cycle,Once again, as you go on relaxing, allow your imagination to lay hold of the various images that I suggest to you, allowing them to speak to you in your own unique way. And as you relax in this manner, I invite you to return to the plant that you experienced the last time, a plant filled with leaves and stretching up towards the sun, which affords it both life and vigor .... As you experience that plant again, I invite you to become aware of the fact that it is maturing, that it is ripening, just as it should, just when it should. The plant that is you is being readied inevitably, irresistibly, effortlessly -- to produce its particular fruit, or its particular flower. Rest in the flow of this moment, as your plant reveals to you what exactly it is, as this special life shows you through its flower, or through its fruit, what sort of plant it is .... What sort of plant exactly are you? Can you identify yourself? What is your name? What is your unique fruit or flower? What is the gift that you bear for the world around you? During these moments, experience what it is like to be bearing the fruit, to be generating the flowers that you are. Fill yourself with that sense as completely as you can.This third vignette inspired the following, more lengthy sharing on the part of one of the participants:The first thing that hit me when you asked what sort of plant I am was a rose bush. I thought that was pretty ludicrous, so I tried to imagine all sorts of other trees or flowers, but I kept coming back to that rose bush. So, finally I said to myself, 'Okay, so I'm a rosebush! Why a rose bush? What does a rose bush have to do with me?' I ended up thinking of several things. First, it's not easy to grow. If rose bushes are to be healthy and beautiful, they must receive a lot of attention and care -- watering, cultivating, feeding, spraying, and pruning. Second, roses are typically very prolific. A good bush can produce, say, a hundred blooms or more through its growing season. Third, they require space. Roses don't live in great clusters, but one bush per so many square feet. They require adequate spacing from one bush to the next. Overcrowding weakens and debilitates them. Fourth, they can sometimes be 'thorny' to get close to. There is a 'prickish' side to them that emerges if you handle them carelessly. You need to know what you're doing if you are going to approach them. And finally, they are troubled by a disease called 'black spot,' which infects their leaves and can eventually sap all the strength out of the bush .... As I came across each of these points, I could really see myself in it. I understand now why I quickly thought I was a rosebush. I really am one!
THE FOURTH SESSION: TO GOD WE GO
The fourth and final aspect of this process provides a necessary conclusion to the total experience -- the night or winter of the growth cycle:As you return to your relaxed state again, as you allow the images related to your plant to well up spontaneously within you again, you will remember what it was like being a freshly-planted seed, what it was like being a young shoot, being nurtured and gathering strength and growing to that point where you produced your flower or your fruit. Now you see yourself on the other side of all that growth and development. You sense yourself nearing the end of all that you were created to be and to do. Perhaps you experience this as an acceptable, gradual lessening of the life-energy within you. Perhaps as a stiffening-up, a drying-out, a slowing-down, or a browning-through. You may feel that there is a distinct chill in the air, the hint of winter's approach. However you experience it uniquely, the season of all your growth and productiveness is behind you, and a period of quiescence or decline or dying is about to begin .... In these moments of solitude and quiet, explore this aspect of your experience as completely as you can. What thoughts or feelings does it evoke? What images come to your mind? What lessons are there to be gleaned? What insights are there to be discerned?Given the focus here upon decline and death, persons characteristically find this vignette more difficult than the others to negotiate, though no less rewarding or enlightening. For instance, the participant who was mystified initially at being a rose bush, reported the following:As a rose, the coming of winter represents for me only a time of quiescence, not a time of death. The leaves may fall off, and the canes may die back, but the roots go on very much alive. Good gardeners insure the health of the roots of their roses by 'hilling up' the soil around them in the Fall -- and the Gardener in my case is very, very good! But there is still some sadness at the growing season's being over. It's so fun and so satisfying to be growing and producing! At the same time that there is this sadness, however, there is a basic trust in the life in my roots. There is the sense that, even though in my quiescent state I will be utterly out of control -- indeed, next to death! -- the sun will awaken me again next Spring. I am reminded that faith means entrusting oneself to the Light during the necessary periods of darkness. It is to trust the fact that life is always supreme, that there will always be another Spring.
SUMMING UP: WHAT OF THE KINGDOM?
As one contemplates the germination and growth, the productivity and eventual decline of a plant, one comes to intuit something of the Kingdom of God. That is the point of Jesus' parable with which we started these considerations. That has been the point which has also inspired the spiritual exercise based on that parable. Through personal engagement with such natural symbols, one ends up not merely knowing more facts about plant-life but experiencing imaginatively something of the profounder Life with which these images are somehow powerfully connected. Indeed, one need never have gardened in her life to make perfect sense of the visualizations in profoundly personal terms. Beyond the conscious, surface working with such imagery, something much less conscious and much deeper stirs into activity and makes itself known to us. It is precisely that Life which has everything to do with the Kingdom of God. It is not too much to suggest that openly living and moving within the context of that Life is tantamount to receiving the Kingdom.
And what has been the result of this subtle self-revelation through these symbols? What do we now know about this Kingdom that we perhaps did not know before? Or what have we had confirmed for us regarding the Kingdom that we suspected before?
1. The Kingdom is something which bursts forth from within with gentle but unmistakable power. From the experiences reported here, it would seem apparent that the Kingdom of God is less "a place to be going to someday after we have died," as many popularly believe, and more a state of being. It is something potential within the human personality that God brings to birth, like the seed's being inevitably stimulated by the rich soil about it or roused by the sunlight. There is something within the seed which "at the same time, is and is not the seed," as one participant stated it, an innate drive for it to become all that it is intended to be. The coming of God's Kingdom is a benevolent and gradual process of changing -- or better, of being changed -- into a new form, into a new being, like marvelously passing from a seed to a maturer plant.
2. The Kingdom is something which, though inherently mysterious, is purposeful. There is a goal in sight to this growth-process. It is not, however, some point of destination which one manages on one's own. That incomprehensible, silent power which resides within the self carries us along, according to its own indefatigable volition and its own inexplicable timetables. As Jesus indicates in the initial parable, the growth occurs, one "knows not how," since "the earth produces of itself." Not only is what we are becoming beyond our comprehension, but it is also beyond our control. As we negotiate each of the cobblestones on the way to God's intended omega point, we discover the necessity of surrendering our willfulness over to the larger, wiser Life. That Life is very much invested in the journey, very much involved in both its course and in its successful completion. "I couldn't be sure which way was up and which way was down," a participant observed, "but whatever it was that was drawing me through the ground, it knew." Obviously, it could be trusted. We do not know, in other words, where we are going or how we will get there. We do not need to, for the end to which we are unconsciously headed and the specific route by which we arrive are not our own. The Kingdom is something that God builds and that God gives, as is pleasing and right. Faith implies that we do not need to do more than simply trust that.
3. The Kingdom is something which is correlated to the health and maturity of the individual, an optimal individuality which naturally manifests itself in quality community. As different plants germinate and produce according to individual patterns, so it is for human beings, with their own diverse aptitudes and temperaments. Some people are indeed rose bushes, while others, symbolically speaking, are violets or cucumbers or palm trees. People assume a very essential variety of routes to the gates of the Kingdom of fulfillment, and they enter through those gates only one at a time, as they are ready. Sometimes this aloneness is intimidating, at others it feels liberating. But ultimately, the solitary route is seen for what it is -- not a self-aggrandizing end in itself, but a means of courageous personal growth into fruitful and faithful new community. "I emerged alone from the soil, but there are others, I discovered," noted one participant. "Some have been waiting for me, and others are coming along behind me." Growth for both plants and people is very much the same: in fulfilling one's individual destiny, one becomes uniquely what all are called together to become -- completely, wholly themselves. Thus, although this spiritual growth model may seem to be oriented strictly to the individual, it to entails some powerful corporate implications. This fascinating interface of the fulfillment of individuality and the fullness of community is itself part of the mystery of the Kingdom.
These three brief paragraphs hardly constitute a definitive description of what the Kingdom of God is. Doubtless, many other statements could be added, both on the basis of other biblical texts, as well as on the basis of other spiritual disciplines. What is offered here simply reflects the sorts of insights related to the personal experience of a few particular participants, on a particular occasion, employing this particular process.
What is stated above in the way of heuristic "conclusions," then, serves merely to illustrate how parabolic or symbolic language reveals, however obliquely and ambiguously, something of that marvelous spiritual life to which we sense ourselves being drawn, called, and committed. As one of the participants confessed, "I shall turn my face to the light." Another resonated assuredly, "Faith means entrusting oneself to the light during the necessary periods of darkness... trusting the fact that life is always supreme, that there will always be another Spring."
We have indeed entrusted ourselves to Something/Someone mysterious, beneficent, and wonder-filled, One whose presence in our lives is known in that "consistent, gentle, tireless tugging on our growing parts," as another participant put it. Over the course of a lifetime, this "tugging" gradually, imperceptibly transforms our inner consciousness and therefore our outer lives. Perhaps in radically personal terms, that final transformation is what the Kingdom is in its fullness. As another of our imaginative participants perceived, "I have the sense that there is virtually no way that I cannot sprout."
Uniquely, in each of our lives, may that be so!
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