Sunlight filtered through pine trees onto the picnic table as eggs sizzled on our George Foreman grill. While I chopped avocados, I turned to see my friend clasping a seed.
“You should sprout one of these,” he said. “My mom used to do it when I was younger.”
“How do you do that?” I asked.
The millennial in me couldn’t help but pick up my cell phone and pose my burning question to the information hotspot. The results proved to be interesting enough, and I embarked on this new endeavor: sprouting an avocado seed in Colorado.
Through the ups and downs of being a green-thumb wanna-be (and often failing miserably), I’m learning that there’s not only a practical component to growing plants; there is also a spiritual reality. God can use anything to speak to us; we just need open and listening heart to hear him in the obscure, unexpected ways. I hope, with such an open-hearted spirit, to offer you a reflection from this little adventure so far.
Jesus uses the analogy of a mustard seed as a reference for the size of our faith. It seems to me that the avocado seed could provide another reference for us in the spiritual, perhaps for the heart.
The shell of an avocado seed is thick. After being submerged halfway into water for several weeks, the shell softens enough to break open and sprout. Environment is key for avocado plants. They thrive in moderate humidity with warm temperatures and full sunlight. If the avocado is in the right environment, it doesn’t need as much attention; but if it’s in the wrong environment, it needs a lot (hem, hem, my plant). Certainly a consideration for our own hearts as well.
As the sprout continues to absorb water, it eventually produces a root system. Once the roots become substantial enough, the avocado seed can be planted with the roots down, and the seed — broken open and halfway exposed — sends forth a shoot towards the sky. That shoot becomes the trunk of a tree. The trunk of an avocado plant grows very slowly; in fact, it often takes at least seven years for it to bear fruit! Once it does, the fruit matures on the plant but doesn’t ripen until days after it’s been picked.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the heart as “the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place ‘to which I withdraw.’ The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant”.
Scripture speaks of the dangers of having a hardened heart. St. Paul issues warnings in his letters: “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8); “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart,” (Ephesians 4:18). King David warns us, too, in Psalm 95: “If today you hear His Voice, harden not your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Since the Fall, everyone is susceptible to having a hardened heart. Perhaps it is a rebellion against God, or a type of ignorance like St. Paul and King David speak of. In my own experience, it can also be the sour fruit of those times when I lose hope or doubt that God is who He truly is: good (Psalm 73:1), Love Itself (1 John 4:16), faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9), and merciful (Psalm 116:5), or a place of unforgiveness towards myself or others.
Staying hardened, like a dry avocado seed, doesn’t bear good fruit. We need the softening of the waters of Baptism so we can be opened to the nourishing graces God has in store for us. Those of us who are Baptized already have that grace. Sin — especially if we turn our backs to God in mortal sin — impedes our ability to live out of those graces, which is God’s Life within us. When we’re far from God in sin, our hearts can become hardened. In my experience, not only does the Sacrament of Reconciliation help to soften a hardened heart, but it also can be the catalyst to break it open. No longer chained by sin, it is free to love, since God’s Life within becomes exposed again.
Suffering can also be a catalyst that breaks open a hardened heart. There’s a reason why we have the term heartbreak. The heart longs for union, and when it is absent, the heart experiences the pain of separation and rejection. God experiences the greatest heartbreak in the event of any sin. But he has also overcome sin and its effects by His Life, Death, and Resurrection in Jesus Christ. My suffering now no longer means only punishment and death; it can be a true union with Jesus’ suffering for the sake of my own redemption and salvation. I’ve seen God use even little sufferings to open my heart to better understand the passions of His Heart – thus, awakening my own passions. The more my passions are united with His, the more free I am to love with His love and to see with His eyes.
When a heart is broken open, God is able to nourish it, if it is rooted in Him. Like an avocado plant, which forms its root system first, our hearts must first form deep roots in the love of God before being able to grow upward and outward.
There is so much to the process of bearing physical and spiritual fruit — much of it is out of our control and takes more time than we anticipate. Yet, the fruit lasts with enough time for maturation. Whatever your personal mission, it’s important to allow God to be the primary actor in bearing fruit, in His time. Where in your life do you desire to be fruitful? Have you talked to Him about it? How are you allowing God to nourish you daily? What environment are we surrounding ourselves with? Does your environment meet your particular needs? Perhaps, you can pray today for the grace to have a hard-heart broken open to receive the nourishing graces the Lord has stored for you.
Whenever I look at my avocado plant, I am reminded to let God keep my heart broken open, exposed, and bearing life. And that is my prayer for you.