I have a feeling that lots of people have suffered from some degree of anxiety, depression, or the blahs for the past weeks and months. Here, in Arizona, at this time of year, we do estivation, the summer variety of winter hibernation. It’s too hot to be out doing a lot of running around, even if we didn’t have social distancing, mask-wearing, isolation, and air-conditioned cars. As much as I love my abode, my cats, my books, knitting, and British TV programs, it does get disheartening from time to time. But then, I do have to go out occasionally for groceries, cat food, ice, and medical appointments. It’s nice to get out, but I’m more than ready to come home and stay put for a few days or even weeks at a time.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a sort of funky mood. Sleeping was a favorite pastime, no matter what time or however long my naps lasted, I still slept well through the night. The next day would be the same until my body said it was time to quit sleeping and do laundry, dishes, house cleaning, working on knitting projects, and sometimes spending a whole day reading a book. I was watching one of the British medical reality shows I enjoy watching. That particular episode featured new parents cuddling the newborn when suddenly s/he screwed up their face and sneezed just as if they had been doing it for years instead of the very first time. I don’t know why it happened, but suddenly I had an experience of joy I hadn’t had in weeks or even months. I still feel rather happy when I think of that scene, as brief as it was. I am still not sure why it was such a joyful moment, but it kept me in a joyous mood for hours.
Reading the Eucharistic gospel for today, I thought again of that brief interlude on the television. In the reading, a man approached Jesus and asked him to save the man’s epileptic (a first-century belief ) son from the demons, causing his fits. The disciples had tried their best to heal the boy but had been unsuccessful. Jesus then proceeded to tell the disciples about a mustard seed and how it’s size indicated that even a small bit of faith could enable them to move mountains. The boy’s father had faith that Jesus could heal the child, while it seemed the disciples didn’t have enough – yet.
That story reminded me that it didn’t require total, absolute, complete faith to bring about miracles, although it helped. It also occurred to me that amid the darkness, a tiny ray of joy can lift the spirits and relieve the sadness and gloom, enough to bring relief and a memory of what happiness felt like, especially after a long anxiety- and depression-ridden period.
The mustard seed, especially the breed known as the black mustard, is small, about 1/8th inch, although the bush itself can grow up to or even slightly more than ten feet in height. It can begin growing in as little as one day and does not require cultivation like other plants. Mustard has been used as a medication for conditions like arthritis, rheumatism, and occasionally cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes. As Southerners know, mustard greens can be cooked with additions such as bacon or fatback, into a delicious and healthy green vegetable. And we mustn’t overlook the variety of condiments consisting of mustard mixed with salt and various types of vinegar and other spices, that is a staple topping for hot dogs, potato salad, egg salad, and other meats and dishes.
Just as a mustard seed can grow to a bush over ten feet high and up to twenty feet across, it begins as something small. While other seeds may be smaller, the mustard grows wild, usually in fields where other things do not grow without cultivation. It represents the growth of faith and the nourishment and healing that comes from it, as well as the spreading of the teachings of Jesus. As well as the growth of faith, it can represent the joy that can spread without a lot of care and tending. Looking at a field of mustard, the bright yellow flowers against the green foliage in dry climates, the colors form a glorious and colorful image that can be joyous, especially with a bright blue sky as a background.
Seeing that baby sneeze on the television program made me look for the small flashes of joy that can pop up anywhere and everywhere. I’ve noticed my dreams have begun to be happier and more thoughtful. I’ve found moments of pleasure and enjoyment, however brief, have come more frequently. I think I’ve found a kind of mustard seed all my own that grows like faith.
I think I’m finding a new interpretation for the story of the mustard seed, at least, for me, anyway. It encourages me to keep looking, even for newborn sneezes. I truly believe that this is the lesson I am to learn today, remember for the rest of my life, and pass along to others. It may not stop pandemics, but small steps of faith, the actions that move us forward in the search for the kingdom of God on earth, bring us all closer. I can hope, anyway.