Growing up in rural northwestern Iowa, one would expect I’d be familiar with sunflower fields, but no one in our area grew them. After a friend mentioned visiting the colorful fields in a nearby county park, I was intrigued. When I went a week later, I arrived too late. Instead of a stunning view like a Van Gogh painting, the desolate fields reflected Samuel Beckett’s book Waiting for Godot. The once brilliantly colored flowers had matured quickly with the extreme heat. Now the faded yellow and brown tattered heads of the plants drooped downward on bent stems, reminding me of the curved-over woman in Luke’s Gospel with her head reaching toward her heart. I almost turned around and went home but something inside nudged me to get out of the car and look more closely.
Once I walked into the field, disappointment turned to wonder. I never knew how large the sunflower heads could be, some eight inches wide. Because of such abundance, the seeds’ weight forced the stems to bow and bend. My thoughts became absorbed in how much it costs the plants to bring forth this rich harvest. I noticed flocks of goldfinches deliriously feeding on seeds spilling out from sunflowers that were now transformed into nourishment, easily giving of their summered lives to enrich others.
As I walked out of the field, I felt urged to return. Something more waited to be learned from the surrendered sunflowers. Two days later I walked slowly through the field, the heavily hanging heads brushing against my body as if to say, “Listen, we have something more to tell you.” And speak they did, about the energy of release, the ability to freely liberate what had been their glory, how the dying field held not only a harvest of fulfillment but the acquiescence of what it contained, an acceptance of giving away what was really never theirs to keep.
Those heavy, drooping heads replete with ripened seeds spoke to me of personal diminishment, of all sorts of loss bound to come sooner or later. Not only does this required transition happen to individual persons. Societies and organizations also experience seasons of bending low. Dying comes before rising. Death arrives before new birth. Few want to accept this reality. But accept it or not, this pattern shapes how growth usually occurs. Unable to hold their heads high any longer, the sunflowers bowed to the way life naturally unfolds, the ageless pattern of life, death, rebirth—sunflowers teaching me anew that I, too, wend my way through this configuration, slowly bending the stem of my life, allowing my head to reach my heart—accepting, releasing, fulfilling.
I thought I was finished with the sunflower field but now I know I will return one more time. Before the snow flies I’ll go and stand in the field of stubbles. With the harvest completed, I’ll view the empty field—one with riches given over to a voracious combine. I’ll stand there, absorbing the truth of release given for the benefit of others. I will take in yet another truth: the fallow time of emptiness following release, much like humans when what has grown and matured eventually departs, leaving barren soil to rest in winter’s fallowness. I will wait, then, for the coming spring when the field will again be filled with sprouting seeds, seeds alive with a new pattern of growth, liberation and generosity.
© Joyce Rupp