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Let the Land Teach Us
  About Healing and Creativity 

Sr. Joyce Rupp, OSM
Page 2

Does Rural America Have an
"Old Interior Angel?"
  Old Interior Angel

 Yes, I believe it does. It is the land itself. The land can teach us about our inner resiliency and about the process of growth. The land holds many messages about transformation, the movement from death to life. The land can show us how to be open and to trust that we will find creative solutions. It can help us grow through what seems to be impossible obstacles. The land can help us find meaning and apparently meaningless situations fraught with frustration and pain. The language and the experience of the land can be a source of both spiritual and psychological support. It can teach us how to grieve and how to heal. The land is a sentinel of promise, inviting us to see beyond where we now are and encourage us to believe that new life will come forth in spite of current struggles.

  The Pattern of the Seasons  

   How can the land do this? By doing what it has always done so well: entering into and giving itself to the process of Earth's four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The land teaches by showing us that each season is part of the pattern of transformation. It begins with new life and eventually comes through death back to new life again. This transformation cycle of the land is similar to that in scripture. It is the Exodus story with its journey from Egypt (autumn), through the wilderness (winter), into the Promised Land (spring), which finally brings prosperity (summer). This same cycle is in the Christian journey with the birth of Jesus (spring), his public ministry (summer), crucifixion and death (autumn), and three days in the tomb (winter) before being raised from the dead and a new season of spring (Easter) begins.

    The land encourages us by its phenomenal resiliency, surviving such challenges as devastating winds, powerful blizzards, months of drought, cruel hailstorms, destructive tornadoes and hurricanes, fierce fires and rampaging floods. The land also teaches by its process of planting and growing. Every farmer knows that a seed must fall into the ground and die before it becomes a new, green shoot. How much easier it is to believe this about a seed than it is to believe it about one's own life.

(Continued at top of next column)


    When I look at the four seasons, I see our inner human experience as a parallel. In springtime there's vibrancy, life and vitality. Then comes the productive and fruitful summer. Following this is autumn when that which has ripened is taken away and the land begins to shut down. (I've often wondered what it is like for the land when those big combines come through the fields to strip it of everything it has worked so hard to produce.) Finally, in this seasonal cycle there is winter, a time of seeming death in which the land lies fallow. This season is a non-productive, waiting time when the land is re-energizing and renewing itself. The winter land tells us that non-productivity and emptiness are an essential element before new growth and fruitfulness can happen. Yet it is this empty, dark season that most of us find difficult to accept as part of our own transformation cycle.

    I believe that the spirit of rural America is in its winter season now. It is a time of dark loss, of empty promises, of barren financial gains, and fallow hope. At a farm rally in August of 1999, Senator Wellstone from Minnesota described rural America as:

"A lot of people near the edge that are ready to go under -- broken dreams, broken lives, broken families."

   This is an apt description of winter at its harshest. No wonder this season is one that is fought and avoided even though it is vital for the transformation process.

  What Can Rural America Do During This Tough Time?  

   Before turning toward hope and a new season of spring, its wintered spirit of discouragement and loss must be acknowledged. Many of those who work on the land and love it are now facing unwanted changes and these changes must be recognized for what they are: an experience of loss that has within it a kind of "dying" or diminishment. What makes this loss more intense is that most of America is either not aware of this situation or does not care. With rural America's loss comes grief at what is being taken away without consent. (The word grief is taken from a Latin word gravare which means "to burden or press heavily upon", while bereaved means "to be robbed."

    This loss has many layers to it --it's not just loss of the land. There's loss of an identity. Many people do not continue to farm, finding work in town or in the city. In no longer claiming identity as a farmer, there is then the question of "how do I name myself and describe myself?" This loss also involves letting go of a lifestyle and a heritage. There is no more direct contact through working with the land so there is a loss of satisfaction as well as the loss of a dream. ("I thought we'd always have this farm"). Sometimes there is also the loss of a relationship. Division and divorce are more likely when couples are going through a time of financial crisis.

    Grief, with its bewildering and unwanted feelings, needs to be tended. Those who grieve cannot isolate themselves from others, although this is often the inclination of the independent farmer. There's a need for support when on is grieving; it is not healthy to 'go it alone'. In the last farm crisis I remember despairing farmers who took their lives and others who went into severe clinical depression. It was very difficult to get those who were hurting to talk about their inner experience. We need to assure those who are experiencing hurt that they have our support and care. Even though we may not live on a farm, we can be closely united with the farming community and grieve with them when we sense the great loss that is presently sweeping rural America.

    Grieving farmers need the strength of community. Again, we can learn from the land. How is the land community-oriented? Think of a crop in the field. If you have just one stalk of corn or one sheaf of wheat when a windstorm comes along or long days of hot sun beat down, it is not going to stand up straight for very long or find much moisture, but if you have a whole lot of cornstalks or sheaves of wheat around it, that lone stalk or sheaf is much stronger, more protected, and will contain moisture longer.

    How do we find meaning in the midst of this crisis? I think it is very difficult but not impossible. One thing is certain -- we need to keep hope alive. Author Anne Lamott describes hope in this way: "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and do what is right, the dawn will come. You wait, you watch, and you work, and you don't give up."

Continued on Next Page

"Let the Land Teach Us"     Page 1    Page 2     Page 3    Page 4

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