Bringing Cultivation Home

“I had previously theorized about deep spiritual lessons, walking out among the fields late summer, having watched the cultivators puzzling turning of the dry soil.  Now, as I grappled with de-thatching our own tiny lawn, the thoughts being turned over in the soil of my mind revealed some patches of undealt-with debris from times past. “

The fields continue to teach new lessons in the early German Autumn…all the way home!

Fast new growth prompts hasty yard-work…! Early September. Otterberg, Germany (c) DSA

When the rains came

The rains came in early September, and the hard work of the farmers finally made sense. The method behind their seeming madness— of thoroughly tilling the dry soils of their fields for weeks, emerged like magic as all across the tableland green life shot up. Literally a day, after the first showers, tiny new growth started to show even through the nearly ashen stubble that was our small side-yard. Unlike the hard-working farmers, we had barely mowed it, since it had hardly grown in the sparse rain this summer; and as the unusual dryness set in, we had downright given up and ignored it.

The soil itself had become so hard that it choked whatever dared try to survive—weeds, grass, and anything in between. And there was indeed an ‘in between’—mowed grass cuttings, which left unraked when things were not so dry, now formed a thatch over bare spots. As God’s law of life cycled around, causing creation to respond with swift and tender green growth, the now soggy thatch smothered those spots, and they showed up as brown patches on the otherwise swiftly replenishing lawn. It was another long and busy week at work for my husband, so I pulled out gloves and our handy-dandy, but-barely-used, cultivator rake and went to it.

Price of not knowing the seasons and times

It was backbreaking, as the now soaked, dead cuttings stuck to the rake’s tines and slowed my efforts to dislodge them from among the new growth. It took a while, but I finally got the hang of it: a forward motion pushed the wet rakings off the tines and a backward one grabbed it again and pulled it into my next haul. A few motions like that and I amassed a good rake full. A quick flick flung it up onto the paved area for easy pick up later. Yes, the new grass got dragged over a bit, but I knew the next shower would totally rinse and repair them. Such is the marvel when the rains come in the early German autumn.

As I straightened up and looked around for the next patch to de-thatch, I considered how much simpler the farmer in the fields just beyond our neighborhood had had it, a few days ago sitting in his monster cultivator tractor, trundling along in clouds of dust. “Tines up, tines down, accelerate, drag around”. He broke up square miles of fallow ground getting little more than some dust perhaps in his teeth, but how ready that soil was now! Sowing would be a breeze! The moist furrows would be so receptive to the fresh new rain. And he would not have his cultivator tines caked with mud nor clogged by damp weeds and soaked stubble! I had to admit, there were huge differences between cultivating at home and cultivating out in the fields, but both needed to be tended to and could be made easier, or else more trying, depending on how attentive one was to the times and seasons of God’s built-in rhythms.

A time to dance…

Rain-moistened Otterberg field, September, 2022; (c) DSA

In an oblique way it reminded me of a Jamaican saying, “Dance a’ Yard before you dance abroad”—translated, ‘Perfect your dance moves at home before taking to the public dance hall’. I had previously theorized about deep spiritual lessons, walking out among the fields late summer, having watched the cultivators puzzling turning of the dry soil. Now, as I grappled with de-thatching our own tiny lawn, the thoughts being turned over in the soil of my mind revealed some patches of undealt-with debris from times past. ‘Debris’ that was now affecting present roles and relationships- clogging communication and distorting intentions. Poor habits of body, soul and spirit were revealed, testifying of need for further transformation and discipleship training—heart soil-work:

“I would have despaired, had I not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living;” Ps. 27:13 (NKJV), wrote the Psalmist. And the Apostle, writing to the Philippian church, applied the same confidence to the young believers, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Phil.1: 6 (NLT) So God guarantees the growth, but the guarding and yielding of the heart to cultivation, was ours.

Five smooth stones… and other tools of cultivation

Bringing it home…Vision board work! Retreat, 2022, Frankfurt, (c)DSA

I bent my stiff knees to retrieve five white stones that lay, where they had been placed weeks (even months) before, for yard games with visiting friends and their young children. They would become concealed before long, hidden in this new grass, to the peril of the mower blades. Each represented a rock of complaint I could level at my husband or myself. As I lay them out on the pavement for relocation to their rightful place, I reconsidered— “Or, they could become like David’s stones, and be used instead to slay Goliaths of complaint, indiscipline, procrastination, discontent and strife— weedy stubble established in our home garden for far too long.” I realized that what I needed were some spiritual tools– a weed excavating hand-tool for up close and personal work; and a kneeling pad to spend focussed time getting at the deep tap roots of those established, proverbial ‘dandelions’ and other nameless growths that defaced our home grounds. The Imago Dei or likeness of Christ can be too easily shrouded by overgrowth, underbrush or buried roots in the uncultivated garden of the autumn of life. Regrets, ‘if onlies’, offenses, hidden sanitized sins, unforgiveness, disappointments, unmet demands, denials…there is no end to what one can find when the soil of the heart is turned over, at close range and from a knee-deep, divine perspective.

Hoeing the row, from yard, to ballroom…to harvest field

New growth for Fall crop, Otterberg field, September 2022. (C)DSA

Yes, ‘cultivating a’yard’ was a whole different ballgame from ‘cultivating abroad’. Coming to a good stopping point in my raking, I hurried inside to the rest of my day. I wanted dinner to be ready; it was date night, and we would literally be brushing up on our now almost extinguished ballroom dancing skills. ‘Dancing a’ yard’ started for us with a ‘pas de deux’– a re-tuning of our hearts, minds, and souls to the music and rhythms of heaven. It had been way too long, and we both knew it. We had recently reestablished our quarterly get-away, at our 31st wedding anniversary, and had revisited our family mission statement and its health indicators– walking its fenceposts, security gates, defining borders, and guard-rails— passages from the Bible illuminated at significant times, values, priorities, mission and vision statements. Though we had to dig for it, we soon remembered what a ‘vision retreat’ was all about and were met with the refreshing of the One called Wonderful Counsellor. We began to hear the sound of abundance of rain, though the cloud was hardly more than the size of a man’s fist. We have started to dream dreams of new harvests, prompted to fresh expectations. The One who causes new growth was still revealing Himself to us as also the Giver of seeds for planting, even in Autumn.

Still learning together, after all these years! Chester, VA, (c) DSA

As we survey the dry and thirsty landscape of God-deprived humanity around us, we realize that our obedient heart-cultivation serves as a primer of the pump of God’s willing purpose to launch another harvest. He is poised to send the rain and wants to know how willing we are to be his well-watered gardens, to be channels of the living water Himself. He is ready to make the deserts of our remaining sojourn on earth, places of springs— causing them to bloom towards a swift and hearty winter harvest. Cultivation tools in hand, heart and soul, we say yes!

Matured and drying sunflower field. 2022; Otterbach, Germany (c) DSA

Author: Denise S. Armstrong

e teacher. She gratefully enjoys a thirty-years-strong marriage, which has joyfully produced three offspring. Jamaican by birth, Denise's work reflects her family’s cross-cultural journey. She is a blogger in poetry, short-form essays, ethnic sketches and musicals. Her work has also appeared in The Caribbean Writer--a literary publication of the University of the Virgin Islands, on SA Radio Cape Pulpit’s – ‘Voices of Change’, as well as on Jamaican television. She considers herself privileged to be a contributor to one of today’s most exciting online communities of Christian artists—The Cultivating Project. At present, she resides in Europe.

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