Living on gently rolling prairie as a farm family, summer was less about baseball and more about hay bales, rain showers, excessive heat, and observing the crops. On the rare summer evening with no additional chores after supper, Dad would treat us to a ride in the back of the pickup as he “checked the hay”. We’d claim our spot in the box, prime seats being the “bench” formed by the wheel wells. Top speed seldom exceeded 25 mph as the dry, crumbling gravel roads coughed up a dense cloud of choking dust if we traveled faster.
My favorite part of the summer was just before the corn would tassel. The corn marched in stately, well-ordered lines in all-green formal dress. Bean fields alongside softened the emerald parade like a velvet-soft carpet. While wheat fields waved like blonde spectators, milk weed and wild roses lined the road ditches, and an occasional flax field was a periwinkle jewel.
Even as an adult, I relished the time prior to the tasseling. Thieving brown tassels robbed the fields of their sea-of-green beauty. As the flag leaves pointed heaven-ward, I would soak in the glorious bright green shades undulating like prairie waves. The flag leaves, protecting the maturing pollen, foreshadowed a backward step in beauty.
Then, my work took me into the fields, into the all-jade world to measure and count the stalks and ears. If I entered during tassel time, my movement through the rows would rain the pollen kernels down my neck, into my tool bag, trickling into every possible crevice.
One year, a stretch of arid 100 degree weather arrived with the tassels. As the crop matured that year, and ears with kernels were measured, many ears had only thirty or forty kernels, some had less than ten, rather than the ninety to one hundred-twenty kernels most farmers expect.
That was the year I began to appreciate the tassel and its itchy mission.
Along with the tassel come silked ear shoots, minature bundles of leaves with soft, lemony silks cascading over the husks. In order for a kernel of corn to form, a tiny pollen grain must land on each hair-like strand. When it is successful, the silk turns dark brown and a single kernel begins growing under cover of the husks. But there must be humidity to keep those delicate fibers moist enough to snag the pregnant pollen dust.
Most of the time, this delicate dance plays through with few miscues. The pollen and silk co-mingle, one after another, each birthing a kernel that grows, matures and dries down, into the reality of the image we carry of an “ear of corn.” Often the farmer’s risk is rewarded over a hundred fold.
Yet, the conditions must be optimal at the exact season of time. And without the tassel, there is no pollination, no seed-producing dropping of pollen to silk. So I celebrate the sweeping brownness of the tassel as the life-giving pollen is released.
This year, as the flag leaves rolled into their steeple heights, I envisioned hands lifted high in worship. Worship that binds us together in beauty and love. Worship that prepares our souls to go into the world. Worship that, when it is fully formed, can be messy, disfigured, even ugly as the church goes out to the lost, the sick, the fragile whose lives cascade around us, waiting for something.
Waiting for the pollen, the life-giving dusting of Jesus’ blood, sacrifice and resurrection. Waiting for what we can tell them, but they must accept for themselves. Waiting for the messy, itchy, humanly repulsive season that can produce a metamorphosis.
We can worship. We can create environments that are open to seekers around us, providing moisture and hydration so if at all possible the pollen, God’s love, sticks to their fragile silks.
And then we trust. We trust that God’s pollen-Word attaches to their fragile silk souls, travels deep within the husks of their lives, forming a kernel that grows and matures.
So now, I see those green-dressed soldiers with brown frontlets on their brims, and I am blessed. Those discoloring tassels assure that harvest is a possibility, as we pray for God’s love to stick on those delicate, easily broken silks of lives around us.
They also remind me that God’s Word is life-giving in the ugly chaos of our world. He longs to rain down His power on our pathetic lives to produce something of His beauty and grace. While we love the pleasant, green verandas of our lives, it is most often in the messy, less-than-perfect seasons that we search for God. And when we seek Him, He will find us.