As I’ve been diving into stories of people who took on the Responsibility of Dreaming and dared to approach God with bold faith and “big asks”, it was hard to overlook the story of George Washington Carver.
You may remember him from fifth grade science class, but few people know some of the fascinating details of his life. I don’t have time to offer an exhaustive biography, but here are a few notable details. You can learn more here.
Born into slavery in 1864, Carver went on to offer some of the most significant contributions to agricutural science as a black man living in the post-Civil War south. Specifically, in a time when cotton crops had ravaged the fields of the South, Carver was able to take the peanut (a trash crop) and derive over 300 uses for it – including paint, ink, and milk. Also, he distilled over 200 uses for the sweet potato.
Most Americans have a cursory understanding of Carver’s scientific contributions, but few people know about the spiritual overtones that were true of his life and imagination.
Just as St. Francis was known to preach to birds, Carver would often spend time in the woods talking to flowers. He explained this facination in different ways…
“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite…. I refer to the unseen Spirit that defies the power of human reproduction, that challenges the power of human expression…. When you look into the heart of the rose, there you experience it.”
“I indulge in very little lip service but ask the Great Creator silently, daily, and often many times a day to permit me to speak to Him through the three great kingdoms of the world which He created-the animal, mineral, and vegetable kingdoms-to understand their relations to each other, and our relations to them and to the Great God who made all of us.”
“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”
“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.”
Though an accomplished professor at Tuskegee Institute, Carver never patented most of his discoveries. “ He said, “God gave them to me; how can I sell them to someone else?”
And though he was offered LARGE salaries to work for Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Carver choose instead to work for the improvement of the quality of life for the disenfranchised. He said, “If I took that money, I might forget my people.”
My favorite story is George Washington Carver’s conversation with God that led to his revelation of the peanut.
George Washington Carver was one of our great scientists, and he often prayed, addressing God as “Mr. Creator.” One night he walked out into the woods and prayed, “Mr. Creator, why did you make the universe?” He listened, and this is what he heard: “Little man, that question is too big for you. Try another!” The next night he walked into the woods and prayed, “Mr. Creator, why did you make man [meaning, the human race]?” He listened and he heard this: “Little man, that question is still too big for you. Try another!”
The third night he went into the woods and prayed, “Mr. Creator, why did you make the peanut?” This is what he heard: “Little man, that question is just your size. You listen and I will teach you.” And you may know that George Washington Carver invented some three hundred ways to use the peanut.
Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer (Kindle Locations 578–583), Kindle Edition.
George Washington Carver approached God with bold faith which led to a great imagination and unprecedented generosity. It all started with daring to ask God about a peanut.
So, what are you asking for?