Good morning. My name is John Karbula and my wife Julie and I have been members of Plymouth since 1996. We have both served on a variety of committees and raised both our daughters in the Plymouth community. I want to thank Hal and Marta for offering me this opportunity and say very clearly as well that I am grateful I don’t have to do this a couple times a month!
Let us be in the spirit of prayer and the spirit of the moment.
Reflecting upon the reading today from Genesis, I found myself thinking of seeds. I am an avid gardener, and as such also an avid composter. I have been blessed to take care of my gardens in my current home since 1992. In that time I have composted many hundreds of cubic yards of kitchen and garden material, and each and every spring I put it right back into the very earth from whence it came.
I love dirt. A native Iowan, I deeply remember the fragrance of wet earth after a spring rain. It seemed to me very deep and mysterious, the smell of life itself. I still love that smell. As I work in my gardens, I often take the dirt into my hands and breathe deeply, the ancient mysteries of the earth revealing themselves. Perhaps it is the very breath of God that one smells when holding a fertile handful of soil. Mysterious indeed.
And then come the seeds. After dressing the soil with aged compost, I work the earth lightly to form the furrows into which I gently scatter the small, dried remnants of last years harvest. In the old days, for most of human history, we carefully selected the best and strongest plants and stored the seeds in a cool dry place. Now of course, I buy my seeds at the local nursery – far less labor intensive! Still, what a thrill it is to open a packet of carrot or pea seeds: each a tiny universe, containing all the genetic material of its living history. Bean seeds are quite large, carrot seeds tiny. But each and every one is a whole world, a living bridge between gathering in the fall to planting in the spring.
And then the miracle happens. These tiny dried shells of plant material, sown with love and care into my beautiful, living soil, covered gently, watered carefully, then transform. It is no less a transformation to me than the very creation itself, a living plant pushing up shoots to the light, sending down roots into the bacteria and mycelium swimming in the soil. The roots feed the shoots, the sun and rain form the plant.
All summer long we have the joy of fresh produce on the table. It is a moment of intense gratitude when you go out on a warm July day, and gather the beans or the squash or the tomatoes, warm with the sun, gleaming and sleek, rinse them, slice them and present them for our sustenance and pleasure.
I come from a long line of gardeners. Just one generation before me, my grandparents, aunts and uncles were survival gardeners: they gardened to live through the winter. Long after it was a necessity my Grandmother Josephine and her sister, my great-Aunt Katie, would put of 60 or 70 quarts of tomatoes!
The family table in the summer in the house I grew up in in Iowa would groan with fresh produce on those warm summer evenings. Tomatoes, carrots, steaming bowls of green beans, summer squash, cucumbers, sleek and cool, sweet corn hot and fresh, slathered in butter and salt! Ah, such memories! Okay, enough, I’m getting hungry!
All from seeds. All from a deeply mysterious process of growth and death, of light and rain, of soil and minerals, the constant interaction between the plant and its surroundings. The joy of the pollinators as they do their part. And in the fall, by the way, the miracle of honey in my beehive!
Like many of us at Plymouth, I worship in many ways. I find the sacred in my long morning walks, hiking in the mountains, camping, fishing, hunting. Spending time with the friends and family I love. I find the sacred in our church community, in worship, in community activism, in working toward social justice.
And, for me, in my garden. For 31 years, I have sweated and toiled and loved my little patch of God’s good earth and my goodness, does it love me back. I love it all. Mowing the lawn, the smell of fresh mown grass like a prayer. Trimming my orchard in February, fertilizing it in May, then the miracle of peaches, apples and pears on the table in late summer and early fall. Freezing applesauce, opening up a container in January, another prayer. Smelling the soil, the plants, the trees on a late summer evening. The riot of flowers from the cutting garden bringing beauty, fragrance and peace to the house.
All of it from seeds. Such a humble beginning to bring such deep joy, such satisfying flavors, feeding my body and the bodies of friends and family with the fruits of my labor.
I would like to close today with a Mary Oliver poem. She is a favorite of mine and captures the mysteries and the beauty of nature in much of her prolific body of work. Here she is with What I Have Learned so Far:
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life... [read poem here]
My fellow members of Plymouth, now joined together but soon to go our separate ways, may the seeds of these humble reflections perhaps plant in your spirit a quiet moment of reflection to contemplate the many seeds in your life. May your harvest be bountiful. May your seeds fall upon fertile soil and may they serve to sustain you when you need them! Amen.