Hannah Strang, Worship Leader
In our current series, How To Grow, we have been learning what spiritual growth looks like with wisdom gleaned from the agrarian metaphors found in the gospels. As we continue to explore the concepts of pruning, rhythms of life, and remaining in community, I have such gratitude for the fruitful conversations I’ve had with so many of you – after worship gatherings, in my City Group, and beyond – about the messy but fulfilling cultivation that God is doing in our midst. It is a beautiful thing.
As I look at my own life, I see areas of Spirit-driven growth, but also areas of lack. I know that the gentleness of God will be faithful to lovingly tend the soil of my soul, but it is my job to remain open to that. Two big ways that I often notice the work of God in my own life are healthy rhythms and healthy community – two realities that go hand in hand. A healthy community is one in which we “spur one another on to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). In this lifegiving community, we are called to a high standard of caring and generosity toward one another as we grow. Look at Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV):
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
One of the best ways we can grow spiritually is to grow communally. Growing in a spiritual community is a multicultural, multigenerational work of the Spirit in which we generously share our lives with each other.
When I think of rhythms and community in terms of gardening, one particular plant comes to mind. Have you ever heard of Hens and Chicks? More likely than not, you have seen these little succulents at some point in your life. These hardy plants share roots and nutrients in order to thrive and multiply. They can withstand the toughest weather, and their beauty often lasts for generations. Each little rosette is called a “chick,” and when it becomes big enough to produce small offsets around it, it is then called a “hen.” The cycle of life among these plants gives way to bountiful growth simply because they stay close together, they share the soil, and the whole purpose of their lifespan is to produce more “chicks” as they go along. I am reminded of the church each time I see these plants. The Church, which is called to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “go and make disciples,” (Matthew 28:19) must live in community. Without our past, present, and future community of saints, we are nothing. As one of my favorite pastors, Brian Zahnd, often reminds his church, “Christianity is a received faith.” We are who we are because we those that came before us shared the nutrients in the soil with us. We are who we are because we are surrounded by one another, continually spurning each other on to abundant life and toward Jesus himself.
Hens and Chicks don’t live a flashy life. It isn’t for “wow factor” that their growth continues or is sustained. They are low to the ground, they don’t require much maintenance, and there isn’t anything especially thrilling or outwardly extravagant about them. Even with small means, their shared roots are able to produce abundantly and sustain them through long droughts. The Latin name for the colloquial Hens and Chicks is “Sempervivum,” which translates into “forever-living.” In their selflessness and ability to thrive in community, forsaking their own glory for the edification of each other, these plants are sustainable from generation to generation. In fact, my first introduction to them was by my great-grandmother, who tended a patch of Hens and Chicks that was also tended by her mother. The tradition has passed all the way down to my generation. My mom has a beautiful patch of these succulents in her backyard that are the product of 3 generations before her, and will continue for generations more.
Finally, a fact about these plants that I find utterly beautiful (and first learned from my own mom) is that their communal life of sharing and conservation lends itself to a fruitful and abundant end. When a hen is nearing the end of its lifespan, then and only then does a unique and thrilling flower emerge. A stalk grows out from the hen, shading the chicks in sight, and produces a brilliant, pink blossom in celebration of its fruitful life. After that hen dies, new chicks will spring up in its place and the life cycle continues. Again, I am always blown away by the beauty of this metaphor and how it relates to our communal life as Christians. Sharing each others’ burdens and being cultivated in the same seedbed of communal love is not just lofty talk for sermons and prayers. At the end of each of our lives, my hope is that we would look around us, surrounded by a community of faith that we have deep roots in. As we learn how to grow, may that growth always be together and always be manifested by our care and concern for the growth of one another.