Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reap the Whirlwind

They sow the wind...

I've had this phrase going 'round in my mind for a couple of weeks, and recalled that it was from the book of Hosea.
"They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up."    Hosea 8:7

Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.

Poetic, evocative. You can see the imagery; a hand sowing seeds into air, the crazy, howling twister approaching.

This phrase has been used for book titles, poems, songs, speeches -- both in and out of Christian circles. Many people quote these lines with no idea they come from the Bible, much less the context of the prophet Hosea and the Israelites who were spending themselves on idols, and still expecting the blessing of God.

But for here and now, how to understand the meaning? It can't be divorced from the original intent, a warning to people that their striving was leading to nothing, and even worse than nothing. The biblical people were expecting their God to come through for them, while they bowed to the neighbor's idols and basically did as they pleased.

A wind is nothing; it buffets, you feel it against your face, but it can't be seen or grasped. A wind is an emptiness. It blows where it wants. Who can direct it? 'Who Has Seen the Wind', writes W.O. Mitchell in his title, one of my favorite novels. Sowing the wind means sowing nothingness into air.

The whirlwind.... much different. A terrible force - a destruction that leaves chaos and scattered ruin as it passes. The power of the whirlwind belies the fact that it is wind, made up of only wind...of nothingness, of emptiness pushed. Little puffs of air, in tremendous synchronization. A whirlwind wreaks havoc.

In what ways do I sow the wind?

It's easy to look at society in general, to point fingers at aimlessness and the empty trappings of materialism.
"You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." Haggai 1:6
Small, meaningless acts that may add up to horrible consequences. I think of our endless upgrading of computers and cell phones, and of the huge piles of discarded technology I've seen in pictures or documentaries. Children in China and other places burning holes in their fingers and lungs while separating the salvageable with vats of acid. A teenager in Somalia sifting with a stick through smoking circuit board remains to find a piece worth selling. The air above and the rivers above and below, a conduit of toxicity. When will we see the whirlwind? It grows in menacing strength over scenes like this all over the world.

Depressing, isn't it? Not exactly the cheery winds of Mary Poppins, or even the magical cyclone of The Wizard of Oz. But  I'm not thinking so much of the environmental storm clouds the world over -- though they are significant.

In what ways do I sow the wind?

I can sidestep the question by thinking closer to home. Those I know who I have watched, with a sinking heart, sowing the wind. Some reaping their own personal whirlwinds of pain, some who have the shadow of it over them. A useless and finger-pointing sort of business it would be to discuss. It does seem to make some people feel better to scrounge through the scattered remains of a life in a whirlwind's wake, poking and looking for reasons and holding up scraps of sins. What good is that? And if I haven't sounded a warning, who am I to shake my head after the destruction passes by?
How do I know the real story, the one I couldn't possibly understand even if I did know it?

In What Ways do I Sow the Wind?

So, back to a more personal (uncomfortable) level.

Empty conversation where I could be speaking life and truth.

So many times I hear my voice saying words that just stuff the air, as feathers in pillows. I meet someone, and tell them nothing that will save their soul. I keep my treasures under wraps, like rings turned backward on a royal hand. Tramping the water into mud underfoot, instead of holding it out to cracked lips.

"It's just not the right time." "I don't really know them". "They probably know already." "They've already made their choices; and rejected mine." "I have to work with these people."

Eternity waits. The blind man thanks Jesus for not making light conversation when he cried out for mercy. "Son of David!!"

I've been blind. Now, I see. Jesus I'm definitely not, but I can see.

Wasted time where I could be investing it wisely in things that count.

Entertaining myself. Stupid games are fun. I do need to have some fun, everybody does.
How long? What could have been carved into stone while I sifted sand through my hands?

I avoid fixing problems because it feels so futile. I don't know where to start! And the finish line is broken or obscured, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else running. I stop in the race and look around. It's lonely and meaningless. Household tasks I've put off for years. I sit down in the track and trace shapes in the sand.
.....The sands of time speed on.

When the Glass Runs Out

Sometimes I'm just tired, really, truly exhausted, and we all know life has a way of sucking us dry, day by day. A good rest can be the best use of time possible now and then!
There are a lot of messages out there to just take it easy, to relax, you deserve it. And once in a while it's good advice to take.

But what are we doing with our lives? Are we simply animals, to sleep, to wake, to feed, to procreate, to have the best day possible until the next holiday comes around? Is that it??!

Wow. If it is, 'tis misery. I can't be satisfied with that. I would be very like Van Gogh. Pursued by too much emotion and striving into madness, and worse. I don't know enough about his life, but I think I understand some of the agony and ecstasy. Always a dark corner, an obstruction of the light, searching, finding, trying, failing.
Beautiful starry, starry nights. Ragged men in ragged clothes. Too much life, in life, for it to be a futility, a grasping of wind.

If I sow the wind, giving way to meaningless words, empty work and endless entertainment, bowing low to the rituals of pleasure and profit, of town and country, what then?

There are days when that is enough.
Today, obviously, is not one of those days. It may be good to keep me busy, so that my thinking is so wrapped in the cellophane of urgency that I ship it off heedlessly and never unwrap it or set it out to observe. It's a rainy day. I was meant to be mowing the grass today...see, it's the fault of the rain.

I do know from observation, history and my own little life that trouble is stacked up bit by bit and then crashes down suddenly. The Bible is full of
wisdom, and warns often to avoid the fury of the whirlwind and live with eyes upward, watching what we sow daily take root and grow into a healthy, edible stalk of grain. When I don't know where to start and the sands of time seem to be running out way too fast, I will look at this hour.

Those who sow the wind, will reap the whirlwind. It strikes fear into me while at the same time there is hope, because I know Who holds the future, and I know Who holds my hand.

"Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." Galatians 6:8


  1. Wow, beautiful Pam! "Too much life in Life for it to be futility". Yes! Reminds me of George Eliott's line in Middlemarch...:" if we had a keen vision and hearing of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow, and the squirrel's heartbeat, and we should die of that roar on the other side of silence." But the roar keeps us from the whirlwind! Let me hear even the faintest of that roar if it keeps me from sowing the wind. Thanks for the beautifully written thoughts.

    1. You're so welcome Bettina, thank you for reading. Love the George Eliott quote, it fits perfectly! Just what I was thinking of.


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