April 26, 2015
Spring in the mountain foothills is a capricious event.
There have already been days when the thermometer reached seventy degrees. This morning is gray, however. Cold thin rain makes rivulets on the window panes and gently waters my new plants. The lilac by the kitchen window survived the snow, and lifts the gentle purple of its blooms eagerly into the rain. Annie and I plan, however, to stay inside. It is cold, and despite its beauty, the day calls for shelter, a fire, and a book.
I continue to think about the odd dimensions that diminishment assumes in the new green of spring. This week triggered a memory from the farm-centered world of my childhood.
Chemicals played a very small role in farming as my father and grandfather practiced the skill. Fertilizers and spray for weed control were being developed but were not yet available for general use. We had yet to experience their dangers or their advantages.
However, in order to increase the productivity of a piece of land, farmers would periodically leave it fallow for a year. No crop would be planted; no weeds or volunteer plants would be permitted to grow on it. The ground lay quiet, unproductive, responsible only to absorb the sun, the rain, and endure the winter’s harsh cold.
The last year before I left the farm, one Sunday afternoon in late spring I walked with my father across a field that he was holding fallow that year.
My father, typically, had a sharp eye out for emerging weeds and volunteer wheat. “This eighty needs working already,” he said.
After some thought he added, “Spring came early this year. The first cutting of alfalfa is already coming on. The corn has to be worked before harvest, and it looks like the wheat will ripen early this year.”
We walked in silence for some distance, then I asked, pragmatically, “Do you think that summer-fallowing pays economic dividends? This ground won’t produce anything that you can market this year, but you’ll have the expense of working the ground just the same.”
We walked back toward the truck. My father was quiet, thinking before he answered as was his habit. When we reached the truck, he paused and looked back over the field.
“Yes, in the long run, summer-fallowing pays, but you have to do it systematically, part of a long term plan. It’s not a one-time fix for over-cropped land.”
He paused, and then continued, somewhat self-conscious. “But there’s more than profit at stake, you know. Everything—including the ground—needs a Sabbath. You know this old eighty used to be tall grass prairie. Then somebody took a plow to it. I like to think that this year while it’s resting, taking a Sabbath, the land remembers and hears again the wind in the grass.”
Half-embarrassed by his vulnerability, he abruptly opened the truck door, and said brusquely, “We’d better get home. Be dark soon. And Sunday or not, the milking has to be done.”
After my condo “spring planting” was completed by my generous friends, I sat one evening thinking about my limited contribution to the gardening process. Then, unbidden, I found myself suddenly thinking about this week’s blog.
Perhaps diminishment carries something of the sabbath, of the resting process, I thought. Perhaps this is the time of summer-fallow for my soul so that in the next season in the Coming Kingdom World, I shall be rested and my strength replenished for joyful productive participation there.
Diminishment fosters sabbath, rest, and conservation.
Some of us (thank you, N.T. Wright) anticipate the indescribable joy of productive life in the New Heaven and Earth where God will set all things right. For us, perhaps the aging process with its diminished productivity would be better viewed as summer-fallow for the soul.
My father was a farmer who hid deeply within the voice of an unrecognized poet. I remember vividly that image he shared, looking out over that fallow field, seeing the land resting and remembering the wind in the tall prairie grass.
I wonder how God views this time in my life. Do you suppose that He means this to be a time of resting remembrance in which as my new plants grow in the spring rain, I know again at the same time the old sound of Kansas wind in the grass?
See you next week.