Summer is heating up, as is the political name-calling from the White House. Regardless of where you stand on the policies being addressed by the Democrats (and especially the newly elected younger members), the recent tweets by President Donald Trump sank lower than I could have ever imagined.
Unable to contain himself from entering the fray within the Democratic Party as it tries to negotiate the various demands of its diverse membership, Trump chose to heighten the tension, singling out four of the most outspoken members of Congress who happen to be women of color — and are all citizens of the United States.
As improbable as it seems, our president called them racist, potential terrorists, communists, haters of our country. He told them they could leave if they didn't like it here. He told them to go back to where they came from. And tragically, Republican leadership and most Republican members of Congress agreed or were silent.
Too many times, I hear from others: How could this be happening? It feels as if everything we worked for is being dismantled. This time, I, too, felt: What is happening?
Are we going backwards to a time before the civil rights movement and the women's movement — a time when different religions were not tolerated, nor were immigrants from certain countries? What has happened to the change so many of us have worked so hard to achieve over the years? How can such egregious behavior be tolerated from anyone, let alone from the person who holds the highest office in our country?
Although such questions evoke various responses, I found myself strangely comforted by a task I was doing for a friend. A good friend of mine is moving and has to downsize. She has been an avid gardener since the '70s. And through the years, she has taught me all about such gardening practices as French intensive, double dig and companion planting.
As I was helping her, she gave me the job of emptying the seed packets that had not been used and whose germination dates were long gone. As I opened packages and poured the seeds into a container headed for the compost, I got lost in the beauty of the variety of them. Teeny, tiny ones that needed a separate wax paper packet within the larger packet like chia, mustard, flax, poppy and celery seed. Colorful seeds like corn, chili and red pepper. Large seeds like squash, beans and melons. As I read the packages, I saw that many were heirloom seeds, because my friend is committed to keeping alive the strains of seeds that have benefited us for generations.
Sitting there doing this task in the beauty of a breezy, sunny morning became a meditation.
I became aware of the conversations I mentioned above. The ones in which we wonder if everything we worked for is for naught.
Then I thought, no. As the tiniest of seeds, almost invisible to the eye, holds within itself the power to germinate — becoming a plant providing energy, beauty and food — so, too, do all the acts for social justice, peace, human rights and ecological justice that we have been about these past decades. They, too, provide the hope and energy to keep moving forward.
From the tiny seeds — individual letters or calls to congresspeople — to the larger seeds planted, sprouted, grown and already born fruit: civil rights legislation, increasing minimum wage, pro-environmental regulations, nuclear weapons treaties, social security and Medicare, to name a few. They are all part of our country's soil.
We inherit the work of our ancestors who bore many of the slurs we sadly hear today, but who persevered in ridding the soil of such weeds and invasive plants. Just as in gardens, sometimes such invasive plants reappear as you dig, and you uncover deeper roots than you had imagined. But each time it is a little easier to clear the soil and prepare it for new seeds, and over time the soil becomes richer and more hospitable for planting and yielding larger harvests.
Of course, the seeds we plant need water and sun. Seeds do not flourish in isolation. A time of heavy rain or prolonged drought stops the growth — then from seemingly barren land, sprouts suddenly appear, born from a seed planted long ago.
All the actions, the conversations, the letters, calls, marches and dreams we offer are seeds taking root. Many will withstand the drought we are experiencing; some may not. But even those that are uprooted are not destroyed for good. They become compost! And who does not delight in seeing a squash or a cucumber emerging from the compost heap.
As I came to the end of my task, I stared into the bowl of these incredible seeds. Even these seeds that were not planted and whose germination date has expired are not without life. For I am taking them to the compost pile. They become part of the future.
As I cleaned up, I had to smile. Looking at the now-empty packets of seeds, the name of one of the seed companies caught my eye. It captures so well what we are about.
Its name was Seeds for Change.
[Nancy Sylvester is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, as well as in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that, she was national coordinator of Network, the national Catholic social justice lobby. You may be interested in the current ICCD program, "Enter the Chaos: Engage the Differences to Make a Difference." For information go to iccdinstitute.org.]