On seed starting day it seems incredulous that from the little specks I sprinkle over the soil trailing, tumbling, or towering plants will grow and set fruit later in the season. Were it not for the fact that each year in the garden I have seen with my own eyes the miraculous transformation of seed into plant, I wonder if I would even believe in the possibility of such transformation. If I consider the orchard—that there can be an entire tree hidden inside a miniscule seed—well, I cannot help but wonder about utterly unbelievable things. Like another doubting Thomas, I want proof: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands . . . I will not believe” (John 20:25).
Each year I’ve pruned and thinned and cut out dead wood from one especially beautiful old tree present on this land long before I ever stepped foot onto it. Last year she produced a bumper crop of some of the juiciest apples we ever tasted and we pressed them into some mighty fine cider. But unlike the grafted saplings we add to the orchard each year, I cannot tell you her history, her botanical or hybrid name, or even what kind of apple she bears. She was planted, probably unawares by some deer or bear or bird, and grew by some enduring force and now miraculously and mysteriously stretches her bountiful branches out over the meadow. All this from a tiny little seed, a seed in which there was hidden a God-sized dream—a dream I cannot fully grasp or prove yet still can believe in, especially when I’m lucky enough to taste its sweet fruit. Or as an old Welsh proverb puts it: “A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.”
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how” (Mark 4:26).
Sure, we may be able to explain germination on a cellular level. We can study and learn the required conditions that seeds need in order to thrive all we want. We may even come to trust in the certainty of the seasons; that asparagus will emerge from the earth with the spring, or that our summer afternoons will overflow with sweet wild blueberries. But we walk by faith and not by sight, St. Paul reminds us (2 Cor. 5:7): Anyone who has ever expectantly dropped a seed into the dirt knows in their heart that every one of the requirements for germination—warmth, water, light, and time—every one of these revolves around the ultimate requirement of faith.
As in the seed, we carry within us the germ of all that we might ever become in the future—a God-sized dream—and from the very beginning the endeavor of every seed is toward its fullest end. The question then becomes, what sort of fruit will we bear? And whenever will it be that we finally bear that fruit? To bear God’s love and forgiveness and reconciliation into the world? “You will know them by their fruits,” we hear from another gospeller. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (Matthew 7:16a, 18).
In the orchard we’re always on the lookout for pests and diseases that corrupt otherwise healthy trees. Deer nibble young branches and porcupines seem to have an affinity for apple leaves, although we tend to let both be as, truth be told, we rather enjoy their company. Subterranean voles are far less welcome, however. But the real enemies are the insects and bacterial and fungal infiltrators like apple scab, fire blight, collar rot, and cedar rust. Worst of all: the dreaded roundheaded apple tree borer. They’re pernicious little bugs—stealthy and sneaky and seldom revealed to be about until it’s too late, when they’ve already laid their eggs beneath the bark where the larvae will grow and tunnel their way up inside the trunk of the tree, pupate, and then as adult beetles drill a perfectly round hole back out into the unsuspecting orchard leaving behind a wounded and weak tree at great risk of failing.
A modern day parable, you might ask? I’ll leave that up to you. I only know that there are pests particular to my life that can cause just as much damage if I do not take care to prevent them or just as importantly cultivate the holy ground of my life. Self-doubt often drills its way into my heart. Cynicism, sarcasm, blame, separateness, judgment, fear . . . these are all roundheaded borers that must be eradicated and kept out of the orchard if I’m ever to bear love’s fruit.
But rooted in the love of Christ we become, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). The seed of discipleship is already planted in you and me. And though we may sleep and rise night and day, that seed will sprout and grow, though we know not how. The kingdom of God is growing within each and every one of us, like an orchard invisible! Our job isn’t to understand how such a thing could be possible. Our job is to believe—sight unseen—and to tend to that seed, to cultivate it, and keep the weeds from growing up around it. Our job is to lift up our leafy arms to the One who dreams God-sized dreams for us, to root ourselves deeply in the stream of the One who so loved the world, and to bring to fruition those dreams; that love.
St. Mark’s, Newport