Growing the Seed

by Christopher Sammond

More than thirty years ago, a member of my meeting asked me to serve as his elder while he did some ministry with another meeting nearby. I had never done anything like that in the six or so years I had been attending, but it seemed right, so I said yes. And for six hours I was singularly focused on holding him in the Light as he facilitated a workshop. To my surprise, at the end of that time, I could see my then spiritual condition, and it was not at all what I thought. 

What I saw was that I was a hollow shell. I had a surface self which I presented to the world, but beneath that I was utterly empty- devoid of any substance. Needless to say, I was shocked by this vision, but it was so clear that I didn’t doubt it. It left me committed to learning how to have something, to be something, of real substance beneath my exterior.

I’m not sure if I read the words by Thomas Merton describing my condition before or after that experience, but for me, they perfectly described what I saw:

For most of the people of the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow…starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me that I am my own mistake.

What I have learned since then is that the journey away from the false self, the superficial non-reality and towards something of genuine spiritual substance, is one of slowly growing. In his famous (at least among Quakers) quote about sinking down to the Seed, Isaac Penington makes this clear. Yes, we sink down to the Seed, but that’s only the beginning; then we must “let that be in thee, and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee.”

And as we let this Seed “grow in us, and breathe in us, and act in us,” it gradually gains weight and substance, ballast which allows us to stay stable through life’s storms, large and small. And the hollowness is gradually filled as we repeatedly choose to “be no more than God hath made” us, “giving over our own running, giving over our own willing, to do, or be, anything,” turning ourselves over to be entirely in God’s care, to give ourselves absolutely, to follow the promptings of this Seed which God has planted in our hearts rather than to forge our own way. And as we do this, the Seed gradually grows into what Penington elsewhere calls “a sensible [as in having senses] plant.” It is through this process of repeatedly giving over that we grow into the Self, the Seed planted in us before our birth, and it is then that we “find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion.”

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1 thought on “Growing the Seed”

  1. Tom Goodridge


    I realize I am just trying to avoid pain and advance my ego. It is quite a hollow road to follow. I love the metaphor of the seed. I’ve been trying to preserve my seed coat, instead of allowing the true birth of the seed within.

    Thomas Merton is the writer who helps me. Thanks for your essay.


    Tom Goodridge
    Morningside Meeting

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