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Let the Land Teach Us
  About Healing and Creativity 

Sr. Joyce Rupp, OSM
Page 3

   Hope begins in the DARK. If we an approach the current farm crisis with a belief that there will be another springtime, we will not give up. Rather, we will trust that this troubled time can lead to something new. Indeed, we would believe that this difficult moment in rural America's history is essential for something creative and vibrant to evolve.  

    I recently read about a farmer who couldn't make any money raising his regular crop so he decided to raise turtles instead. He took action. He took a great risk. It was the right one for him. Now he is financially successful and cannot raise turtles fast enough for the great demand there is for them. I doubt that he ever would have envisioned himself raising turtles ten years ago and yet, this is what awaited him after his wintertime.

    Lamott says that hope also means "waiting." This means being patient with the gestation time of the seed as it waits in the dark soil to germinate. One of the difficult things in waiting is that we just don't know the exact time when the new life will show itself. In our spiritual germination time we learn how to lean on God and on others. This is a time to trust, to learn from the land that a seed has its own time of greening and growing, just as we do. We cannot dig up a seed to see if it has begun to grow. If we do, it dies. We have to trust that there's a greening ahead for rural America, as well.

    Mythologist Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) describes this transformation cycle as the inner journey that each person must take if they are to grow. What I like about Campbell's cycle is that it includes a gift when one eventually moves into spring. Every time we come through a winter of our spirit, there's a gift for us. Campbell calls this "an elixir" [sic] and emphasizes that this gift is not just for us but also for the transformation of our world.

    We must wait patiently and hopefully. We do not know what that gift will be for rural Americans who are currently struggling with their wintertime anymore than we can see green leaves on a frozen, wintered branch. But we can see the terminal buds with the promise of spring on that branch and we can have hope in the seasonal cycle, which assures us that new life will follow the difficult times. We must believe and hope that rural America's elixir will be something that gives life and vitality to the land and its people. We must watch and work for ways and means for this to happen.


Every Time We Come Through a
Winter of Our Spirit, There's a
Gift for Us.


    Sometimes we have to wait for a very long time before we know what the gift is that follows our wintertime. Life coming after death may not be readily perceived. When Roger Williams and his wife were buried side by side in Rhode Island, their graves were near an apple tree. Many years later some local citizens wanted to honor them by having their bodies re-buried in another location. When they went to exhume the corpses, they discovered that the bodies were wholly decayed; there was nothing left, not even the bones. The nearby apple tree had wound its roots around the physical remains of the dead man and his wife, absorbing the phosphorus of the bones into its living system. (cf. Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, William Bryant Logan, p. 37)

   This is truly an example of complete transformation, of bringing new life out of death. The land consistently provides examples of this process for us. A kernel of oats does not look anything like a green stem pushing from the soil. An oak tree bears no similarity to an acorn. Each one gives its life so a new form of life can arise. Surely there is a message of hope in this for rural America today.

   The land promises that spring will follow the dying. There are new and creative ways that can come forth in order to keep rural America alive. There are fresh shapes and forms for producing and protecting marketable farm products although it is not yet clear what those might be. There are other ways of developing a vibrant, healthy farm policy. There are different methods for exporting products. There are laws that can protect our land and water that have not yet been written or legislated. There are visions longing to be explored. There is action still to be taken for organizing and speaking loudly for agricultural justice. The potential is there just as truly as there is potential for life in a seed or in the dormant branches on a wintered tree. We have to discover what these ways are and do all we can to protect the life of rural America.

Continued on Next Page

  Cross with 4 season trees  

    New growth often asks for risk-taking. Again, the land can teach us. Every farmer knows what a risk it is to plant a seed with all the challenges that a seed faces before it produces something for harvest. Farmers believe in the potential for life that lies in a dry, wrinkled seed. Rural America must believe in the potential that lies in the dry, seemingly dead seeds of its future. This is its gestation time. It must plant new ideas and risk trying new approaches. Eventually the seed will begin to green and grow if it is nurtured and tended with care.

    Rural America cannot give up the fight. We must "work" as Anne Lamott indicates in her definition of hope. There can be no sitting back and simply waiting for "spring" to happen. We need to fight to change unfair systems that are only for profit, that neglect the quality of human life and the quality of the land. We cannot give up or become passive. It is all too easy to become paralyzed or discouraged in the dark of winter.

Irish author John O'Donohue, whose writing is wedded to the land, was studying in Germany and found he could not write his dissertation. He was stuck. It was very much like David Whyte at the broken bridge, or like any of us in our wintertime when we feel deadness. What brought John O'Donohue back to hope and action was a little German phrase that says, 'I am standing in my own way.' He realized that he was letting himself stay inactive by the inner messages of defeat that he was giving himself. When we are in the wintertime of our life we can stand in our own way, too, and not believe that something creative can come out of what is dismal and discouraging. (c.f. Eternal Echoes)

(Continued at top of next column)


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

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