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All of life is based on the principle of the cracked-open seed.

It’s the simplest kindergarten experiment. Take a few beans. Dampen a paper towel. Place the beans inside and then leave it in a dark place. In a little while, which may seem much longer to an eager child, the beans split apart and tendrils of new life stretch forth. With the most basic ingredients of soil, water, and sunshine, the tendrils seek out the light and grow into hearty plants.

Notice two important things. First, the beans crack open by themselves. Yes, it takes the right external conditions, damp and dark. But when those conditions are in place it is their nature to break and grow. Second, when the first pale tendrils are exposed to light, they stretch toward the sun. Yes, again, there are necessary external conditions; there must be soil; there must be light. But given the slightest hope of growth, no one has to tell them what to do.

Human beings are just the same. Our exterior layers of complexity may conceal this truth, but consider: sometimes we find ourselves in a damp, dark dungeon. It may be self-imposed, imposed by others, imposed by circumstance. When we are there, in that dark place, it’s our nature to break—to break open and grow. Once that happens, it takes only the most minimal of conditions for us to continue growing. We seek the light and grow toward it.

In our most fearful moments, it may seem as if our shell itself is our prison. And because we are complex beings (not simple beans) sometimes we languish in the dark far too long. We may need guidance, encouragement, light from others before the shell finally breaks (that is the driving purpose of Talking Umbrellas).

In the end the seed of ourselves knows exactly what to do. It’s our nature to crack open and grow. Like the little bean that is a source of wonder to the young child, within each of us is a miraculous capacity for growth. And growth, once begun, does not reverse itself. The tendrils do not return to the broken shell. We seek the light.

It is our nature.

Rev. Jennifer Brooks
Rev. Jennifer Brooks
Jennifer Brooks is a Unitarian Universalist minister whose professional specialty is congregational transitions and the personal transformations that occur when a congregation is between settled ministers. Unitarian Universalism unites people of diverse theologies through universal values and a shared commitment to building community beyond belief. Learn more at
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