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by Claudia Shields, member of All Saints Church

Friday, June 30, 2017 James Walker
photo of Zelda Kennedy and James WalkerZelda Kennedy and James Walker share sermon duties on their final Sunday at All Saints Church, June 25, 2017

I needed some words — words for you James, as I prepared to say goodbye. I had none. One day while I was waiting for them to come to me, I went out into my garden to water the grass. It is generally there where I hear the voice of God most clearly. That day was no exception.

Inspired by a rainy winter, my lawn was trying to come back from the drought. I decided to aid in its resurrection by planting grass seed and watering regularly. In about three weeks, in some areas of the lawn, I began to see that seeds had taken hold and sprouted, just as the words on the grass seed bag had promised. Their fresh little bright green sprouts seemed to reach toward the heavens, vigorously rejoicing and proclaiming the triumph of life over death. It wasn’t long before they grew tall enough to be mowed, but I didn’t dare mow the lawn because there were other areas where the seedlings were still frail and short, and still other areas where there was no growth at all yet. So I waited. I watered. I planted more seeds, and I watched. I checked daily to see if there was any change. There was none.

I wondered why the grass was growing strong in some areas, less so others, and in some areas not at all. I watered them all the same. I planted the same grass seed in all of the areas. Could it be the sun? No, although there were areas in the shade that didn’t fill in with grass and there were also areas in the sun that didn’t fill in. It wasn’t the sun. It wasn’t the water. It wasn’t the seeds. What was it? I think I asked this out loud and stood there waiting for the answer to come to me.

Soon I felt a Divine whisper in my ear, “It’s the soil. Good soil is always covered — it is hidden beneath the beautiful, life-​giving, oxygenating plants it produces. You rarely see good soil. It is most actualized underneath the beauty it helps create. It is in the places where it is noticed least, that it has done its greatest work. When the flowers sing praises and glorify God, it is the soil beneath that supports them; lovingly holds them in place; provides them a stable place for them to grow by nourishing their roots with its magical power to convert rot, feces and decay, and into life-​giving nutrients.”

James!” I whispered loudly. “James is the soil!” I thought of your introverted nature — quietly and diligently working “underneath” and often out of the light of glory, embracing life’s debris, which many can’t stand to touch, and transforming it into inspiration for the music that makes our hearts SING!

I thought of our beautiful choirs, each voice an amazing flower that has been planted in the quiet, gentle, warmly nurturing soil that is James! Each voice growing in the way it was uniquely and divinely intended. I thought of your fertilizing power as you entered the choir room during my own voice lessons and with a single word of encouragement, empowering me to sing and to eventually do so publicly (a cappella no less) at my husband’s memorial last month. “That’s it!” I thought with excitement. “I now have the words! James is the soil — the good soil!”

My intention was to go to your website and share the words I’d found — hoping that I could find the right way to tell you that my best analogy for you is dirt. I was just hesitant enough that I put it off and didn’t do it. Then this morning, as you addressed the congregation, at your last service, you opened by saying, “Prepare to grow.” This is exactly the message of good soil. “Prepare to grow!” In your presence James, we could do nothing else.

Despite your departure, like good soil, you will cling to our roots and continue to produce growth in us.

(Epilogue: After writing this, Matthew 13:1–9 came to mind.)