Do Not Fear To Sow Because of the Birds
May 15, 2014
“‘My work seemed somehow flat and empty. An unreality about it gnawed at my spirit. Had I become too separated from life at the roots? Whenever I should have been working on a doctoral thesis, before my eyes swam visions of fertile fields and growing crops, of barns and animals and small, tender, living things.’ And so in 1946, the Keenes borrowed $5,000, bought 100 acres in central Pennsylvania and began farming on a song and a prayer. ‘We moved there – two children, two parents, Betty’s elderly missionary father, a team of horses, our dog Lassie, and an old car,’ Paul wrote in his 1988 book Fear Not To Sow Because of the Birds. The book’s title comes from an inscription Keene found on an old tombstone. He adopted it as the motto for Walnut Acres, saying that he always ‘tried to sow enough for birds and people, and then to move through our days trustingly.'”
– Excerpted from the obituary of Paul Keene, founder of Walnut Acres, one of the first mail order natural food stores in the United States
This past October, while doing some online research about local sources of organic flour, I came across a very moving obituary of Paul Keene, founder of one of the first mail order natural food stores in the United States. As I learned, Paul and his wife Betty were pioneers in shaping the local and organic food movement which has changed the way many of us eat today.
I think Paul Keene’s obituary makes for particularly poignant Easter reading. First and foremost, I love the motto he chose for his company – Do Not Fear to Sow Because of the Birds – and I especially love that he took this from an inscription on a tombstone. This message, which someone considered so important that they had it engraved on their tombstone, is ultimately about life itself. It urges us to live generously and without fear, having faith that while there will always be birds who peck away at the seeds we sow, we should nevertheless (in Paul’s words) try to “sow enough for birds and people, and move through our days trustingly.”
It seems to me that Jesus’ earliest followers must have also had to come to a similar conclusion during these fifty days of Easter. Jesus’ Resurrection pushed them out of their hiding places; it encouraged them to spread the seeds of the Good News despite the fact that ‘birds’ were still out there, circling above, looking to peck away at this new movement.
The motto that Paul Keene chose for his company is an imperative. It says “Do not do this!” Are there times in which you have ‘feared to sow because of the birds’? What would it look like to instead “sow enough for birds and people, and move through the days trustingly?” How is this attitude of fearless generosity different than, say, simply hoping one’s efforts survive? What does it mean to sow enough for both the birds and people?