"You're always saying that." It was The Bagpiper's younger son, invoking his youthful right to hold his elders accountable for words and actions, and I had to admit he nailed it.
"You're always saying the place ALMOST feels ready, ALMOST could be called a real home." He was impatient with me, which was fair enough. I'm already pretty impatient with myself. Our construction project has played out like most budget-restricted ventures, slowly, with much frustration along the way. When WILL we be ready to say, for certain, that this site of our intellectual and physical labours is more than just another worksite? When WILL we step into this space, breathe deeply, relax into the peace of it, and say to ourselves and each other, "We're home"?
The Bagpiper and I have been taking turns, the past few weeks, reading aloud from a small book called "The Plain Reader: Essays on Making a Simple Life." (Ed. Scott Savage, ISBN 0-345-41434-9). It is a collection of speeches and essays from Amish and Quaker perspectives. The work grew out of The Center for Plain Living and their 1996 event, "The Second Luddite Congress." (I may draw some ire for mentioning this event on the internet, which they do not believe to be an appropriate forum for discussion of such ideas, but I'll take the risk because I think the ideas matter.)
The book features many of the Thinkers of Big Thoughts that led us to this farm, the spiritual guides and on-location reporters of The Settled, Rooted, Intentional Life: Wendell Berry, Jerry Mander, and Gene Logsdon are featured alongside essays on draft horses and washing clothes by hand. I don't agree with all their reasons and perspectives, but I do agree with the premise offered by Bill McKibben in the book's foreword:
"This book is...a manual for subverting your own life. And after that, perhaps, the lives of those around you. In an odd sense, when every taboo has fallen, then the only way to be subversive is to have more fun than other people--to fill your heart and your home with more joy and warmth and pleasure than the frantic, slightly pathetic, ersatz happiness offered by Disney and the mall and the chat room. This is a book, finally, about joy. You may despair when you read it, and then you may do something magnificent." --pg. xiii, The Plain Reader, c.1998 Center for Plain Living.
That last sentence sounds a lot like the season of Lent. There is something mightily compelling about that movement from despair to magnificent action. As we've read through the essays and discussed them together, we've tried to reflect on the sources of our own despair--and the seeds we struggle to plant and tend, the seeds of what we hope will be our contribution to that nebulous, longed-for magnificence.
We read about people who willingly chose to live without television, as we have chosen ourselves. We read about a pastor who wrestled with appropriate technology and compromised with the use of a laptop for sermon-writing, as hours were freed up for more human interactions. We read about people who gave up their cars for horses and buggies, people who willingly live without running water, in order to honour the needs of the rest of Creation.
This is a thought that has prodded at the edges of my mind for many weeks--that our petty suffering and sense of inconvenience SHOULD move us away from selfish conceits towards solidarity with the greater human condition, where clean, running, heated water is a rarity. It would be more radical, more faithful, to freely and actively give up plumbing for Lent. (The hard part, for us, was not having the choice.) It would be even more radical to give it up for longer, perhaps for life. Think of the bills saved, the water unwasted. Think of the effort and care required to give one's wastes back to the earth in a way that ensures health and sustainability. Would this be a retreat to something more primitive, or would it be an advance?
I try to imagine Jesus and his closest friends on a farm. Judas would be the guy stressing about the composting toilet, worrying about livestock feed consumption and the daily accounting of eggs laid. Those things are important, but there must also be room for Mary of Bethany who broke open her precious jar, anointed Jesus, and earned a place in Christian history for her bold, fragrant, prophetic act. This is the central challenge of Lent, I believe, and the reason we felt moved to revisit "The Plain Reader." In a time when resources seem scarce and human kindness scarcer, we are called to push the edges of generosity. In a time of destructive patterns and impulses, we are called to greater creativity. In a time when pundits declare "it's all over" and "the sky is falling", we are called--as stewards of the earth--to boldly feed the soil, plant and tend seeds, shore up and mend the sheltering power of the earth, and joyfully declare that abundance shall reign again.
It's still Lent. We are oh, so broken and the times are oh, so dark. But, as the seed must break open in the dark earth, so we must turn our efforts towards dreaming of New Creation in all the tumbling glory of its myriad, colourful forms. We must beat the swords into plowshares and till our despair under. We must turn the graves into furrows. We must reclaim joy and laughter as we play in the dirt, and proclaim the promise in the rhythms of our work-songs.
The time will come when we live into something creative, something magnificent. The time will come when jars will break open, when blossoms will burst forth, when bowls will brim and overspill with berries.
In the dreaming of it, in the waking of it, and in the making of it,
We are almost home.