Seeds and Amanda, Pope Francis and Jesus

Finally some breathing space in my very packed working weeks to indulge in writing, so this is my third posting in one week (you may not see any more for a while again, so enjoy). While only a few brave blog readers post public comments, I do receive several private responses after each posting – thank you to each one, I greatly appreciate your words. Some of these responses are worthy reflections on their own which could be shared more publicly, but I leave that to the writers themselves. This time a faithful reader in Belgium responded to my marriage musings and wondered if I had intentionally posted it on this Sunday when the church proclaims Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus speaks of seeds. Well, no Hugo, it was not deliberate but when God’s involved there is no such thing as coincidence. 🙂

However, today’s Gospel (Mark 4: 26–34) containing two parables about seeds do speak into a powerful encounter I had this past week. And when I read Pope Francis’ homily on this Gospel passage this morning, I decided to share about the encounter using his reflection. A bit daring maybe, but that’s what adds spice to life. 🙂 Pope Francis’ words are in italics interspersed with mine. Besides, I hope this reflection can also be a good illustration of this blogging Christian’s way to make meaning of life.

In the first parable, attention is placed on the fact that the seed sown in the earth takes root and develops on its own, whether the farmer is asleep or keeping watch. He is confident in the internal power of the seed itself and in the fertility of the soil. In the language of the Gospel, the seed is the symbol of the Word of God which contains an inherent fruitfulness. As the humble seed grows in the earth, so does the Word work with the power of God in human hearts. God has entrusted his Word to our earth, that is to each one of us in our concrete humanity. 

Two days before the news broke that one of her captors has finally been arrested by the RCMP, Amanda Lindhout (see her image above) spoke in our community of Humboldt about her ordeal of a 15-month captivity in Somalia in 2008–2009. A capacity crowd of 350 was captured by her story, a captivity quite unlike the captivity Amanda endured in Somalia (just Google her name and lots of sites show up with her story; her book is titled A House in the Sky). While Amanda’s gracious speaking style hardly contained words with religious/Christian overtones, I was deeply moved by the spiritual dynamic she shared, a dynamic present deep in each human spirit, God’s seeds of salvation ready to sprout and grow when circumstances are right.

This word, if received, certainly brings forth its fruits because God Himself makes it sprout and mature through ways that we can’t always verify and in a way that we do not know. (v. 27). 

The most poignant part of Amanda’s story was when she shared about her deeply feared approaching “breaking point” (all while in captivity) and the surprising sensation of peace and calm that washed over her in ways she could not verify nor know where it came from. This turned out to be a turning point as she latched onto the decision to choose life and goodness and gratitude despite the horror each day brought her. Amanda discovered a reservoir of resilience inside herself and the freedom that lies in our capacity to choose our response in the face of horrendous suffering. Echoes and images of Jesus washed through my mind and heart when I heard her speak. Jesus was truly free, deeply free, a freedom and peace the world cannot give, especially in his moment of greatest suffering. In her moment of great suffering Amanda tasted this freedom firsthand, an unexpected gift from “nowhere” spelling release from evil.

The second parable uses the image of the mustard seed. Despite being the smallest of all the seeds, it is full of life and grows until it becomes “the largest of plants” (Mk. 4, 32). And so is the Kingdom of God: a humanly small reality and apparently irrelevant. To become a part of it, one must be poor of heart; not trusting in our own abilities, but in the power of the love of God; not acting to be important in the eyes of the world, but precious in the eyes of God, who prefers the simple and the humble. When we live like this, the strength of Christ bursts through us and transforms what is small and modest into a reality that leavens the entire mass of the world and of history.

Amanda grew up in Alberta, a “small plant” in a big world, but a small plant with big dreams. She traveled the world driven by a desire to grow and learn and contribute to making the world a better place for all people. At first yes, she did trust her own abilities to contribute to this divine dream — the innocence and beauty of youth. She ended up in Somalia and underestimated the dangers of war. Her 15-month ordeal became a crucible for transformation, and God’s seeds sprouted in her spirit in unexpected and powerful ways. Once released, these divine attributes kept growing inside Amanda. Resolved not to live the rest of her life a victim consumed by hatred for her captors, she set out on the long healing journey. Within six months of returning to Canada, Amanda founded the Global Enrichment Foundation. Not only did this initiative play an important part in her healing process, it was also her expression of what she came to understand through her captivity, and that is that hurting people hurt other people. Her captors embodied evil ways of relating simply because they themselves had lived with evil and horrible ways all their lives. In her resolve to return love and compassion in exchange for the evil done to her, Amanda set out to help fund educational and social projects in Somalia.

This opens us to trust and hope, despite the tragedies, the injustices, the sufferings that we find. The seed of goodness and peace sprouts and develops, because the merciful love of God makes it mature.

From the website of Global Enrichment Foundation:
A former freelance journalist, Amanda’s concern for the crisis in Somalia brought her to the capital city, Mogadishu, in August 2008. Three days after her arrival she was kidnapped by teenage criminals and held hostage for 460 days. She understood that her captors, some as young as 14, were products of their environment – shaped by decades of war, famine and extreme poverty. To get through this experience, Amanda made a promise to herself that if she survived she would dedicate her life to helping create a better future for people in Somalia…. Amanda speaks to students, teachers and community leaders about forgiveness, compassion, the role education plays in transforming lives, and the steps anyone can take to become a champion of change.

For the latest update on the capture of one of Amanda’s captors go to the CBC website.

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