I normally teach in Germany at the end of November, when the harvest has just come in and the farmers are taking a break. This year, though, I’m privileged to be in this agrarian region of southern Germany (wine, apples, honey, plus much more) at the end of winter and the farms are anything but sleepy. The vines are being trimmed. The soil is being tilled, as I encounter numerous tractors on my morning run. Folks are in their yard gardens, prepping, planting, trimming, cleaning, turning the soil.
I ponder, while I run, that this work, more than any, sustains life for all of us. We can do without most things in our lives – bankers, i-phones, facebook, sleek new jets, lawyers, preachers, bloggers, even the internet itself. But trying living without the harvest that comes from the soil and see what becomes of your life.
In spite of how vital the work is that’s going on all around me as I run this morning, the truth is that this is wholly unspectacular stuff these people are doing. They’ll never end up sitting on piles of cash because of it. They’ll never know the adrenaline rush of an IPO or new product launch. They wake up each morning and get on with it, each day a familiar rhythm, each season with its own unique chores – the sun comes, the sun sets.
“Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” is what David invites us to do in Psalm 37, and wiser words couldn’t be spoken, ever. The words make more sense here, among the farmers who are dwelling and cultivating, than they do in my urban home where buying, selling, mobility, and words like “extreme” and “fastest” and “biggest” elicit admiration from a culture where the price tags were changed while we were all sleeping. We digest Tebow mania, and then the Super-Bowl, and then Lin-sanity, and in between we argue about church discipline, and the roll our eyes when Romney coos about Michigan because their trees are just ‘the right height’. I sometimes think we’re addicted to distractions – on an endless quest for the ‘next big thing’. Yuck. The whole pursuit leaves our souls barren. Meanwhile, farmers everywhere are waking up and doing what needs to be done; without fanfare or adulation. They have a word for that, and its a word we’d all do well to build into our lives as a priority:
I’m reminded, as I run through these fields, that crops don’t grow themselves. A fine red wine, enjoyed with friends over a lingering supper, is the climax of a process that began years, even decades earlier, when someone married vine to soil. You can bet when they did that, nobody was there to cheer them. Neither was it “extreme” or “epic” when the first shoots were trimmed, so that all the energy could be challenged into the ultimate goal of it all, which is fruitfulness. The sun comes up. The sun goes down. Another day in the vineyard.
I think about what it means to cultivate my life with God and my calling, and I’m reminded of Hosea’s exhortation to “sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you” The thing about breaking up soil is that it requires focus on what’s right in front me in the moment – this heart, this family, this calling. Thomas Merton warned that our attempts to magnify our influence and sphere of influence would backfire on us. He wrote:
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects … is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism … kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
“the root of inner wisdom” I love that phrase. It reminds me that Christ has been planted in the soil of my heart and that I’m the farmer. I need to cultivate the soil of my heart so that the root of inner wisdom (which is the spirit of Christ in me) can grow. Merton reminds me that a diffused life, torn in a million different directions and pursuits, cultivates nothing. Such is world, too often. We’ve become a people addicted to trivial knowledge, but lacking wisdom; acquainted with multitudes on social media, but known by too few. As a result, we’re often bored with the daily-ness of living, because we’re unable to see that it’s this glorious rhythm of cultivating faithfulness that creates the conditions for us to be people of blessing and hope in our world.
Am I willing to show up faithfully, nurturing relationships with God and others, using my gifts in small unnoticed ways, serving without fanfare, praying in my closet, giving in secret, washing windows and dishes, listening to a student in need during my week of teaching, turning off the computer to say a prayer of gratitude to God during a spectacular sunset? I hope so. I pray it will be so.
God of the soil;
Thank you for this season of preparation, with farmers caring for their fields faithfully, day after day. Bless the work of their hands. May their testimony of faithfulness, their delight in faithful nurture, their fidelity even when nobody is looking, shape us as we care for the soil that is our hearts and lives. Forgive us for our addiction to the spectacular, for our insistence on big results and impact. Grant that we, yoked with your life, might learn that value of faithfulness for its own sake, leaving the scope of fruitfulness entirely in your hands.