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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
Featured

The Unlikely Timing of Cultivation

Cultivator tracks in an Otterberg field; Late summer, 2022

The past few mornings, the fields have laid bare and silent beneath the big sky over the small German town where we currently make home.The whole scene seemed to be holding its collective breath in the rainless summer. All was in waiting. But as I took to the long narrow road which runs down the center of the farmlands, I realized they were not merely waiting; they were waiting in preparation, anticipation, even expectation.

My now familiar journey past each field revealed various stages of cultivation: some still had standing stubble, others had the stubble mildly worked into turned-over soil with roots and stems randomly sticking out everywhere. Still others were mostly ploughed over, with flecks of glistening, golden straw showing through, here and there. My eyes breathed a sigh of relief as I lifted my head to fields further up the road and spied wide expanses of even brown, though dry, soil with nary a sign of previous growth anywhere. They defined, ‘laid bare’, looking like freshly cleaned carpets, vacuum lines and all.

One field stood untouched, laced with weeds, wild grasses and the few species of wildflowers which had withstood the unseasonably dry weather of this year’s late Summer. Going by it, I was encouraged to press past the one tree, due to the distant sight of two fields which bore a bluish-green hue— not a colour my city-girl eyes associated with growing things. What I saw, as I came close enough, were small rapeseed* oil seedlings. The two fields, covered by thousands of them, appeared bluish because the underside of the young leaves faced upward, being curled-over due to the dry conditions. I was forced to pause and wonder at this bold display of the region’s hard-working farmers— How did they dare to do all this work of cultivation, soil preparation and even of planting, not knowing whether the rains will come or not?

Feeling sufficiently exercised I turned back down the road, pausing briefly to scan all the fields from my vantage point of the slight rise by the one tree. I marveled because trees, ornamental shrubs and lawns of the neighborhood just beyond have been drying up and dying, but here displayed was the faithful perseverance of the farmers. They confidently worked the land, leaning into a reality that escapes us who are unfamiliar and less trusting of the laws which God has laid down in the earth. They believe enough in its rhythms to prepare their fields, and even plant seedlings, demonstrating by their actions, assurance that even if the blue fields don’t make it in the heat, something else will, sooner or later; the latter rains of the Fall season will come and something they plant in the readied soils will grow. They know that if left hard and fallow, when the rains come it will be too late to try to prepare the soil then and the water will simply run off and away.

 No wonder Scripture admonishes us that,

“Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant.

If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.”

And also to,

“Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both.” Eccl. 11:4, 6.(NLT)

It became clearer to me; ones first steps past the one tree of our lives is to,

“…break up (y)our fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.”Hos.10:12b (NKJV)

***

Cultivators at work in early morning, Otterberg, Summer 2022

I went out early enough the following morning and caught two farmers at it: In a field, hedged along the roadside by a miserable strip of dying, untended sunflowers, they worried the land, back and forth in tractors fitted with tooth-like curved cultivator tines. I almost turned back from the walk as I observed the massive cloud of dust their unrelenting activity was producing in the parched field. But the clear wind-direction away from the road assured me, as I observed, that I would not be enveloped in the dust so I pressed forward. I was relieved by the convenient breeze, and seeing God’s provision in it, I became more attentive.

So this is what soil-work looked like!: Tines down; break, loosen and drag that dirt into ragged rows; tines up; turn around and do it again in the other direction. I pulled out my phone and tried to pace my steps to ensure as close a shot of the cultivators at work as I could, without violating any privacy principle or rights. I laughed as the first few shots revealed barely more than two clouds of dust. Just then I noticed the blue cultivator seeming to pick up speed, heading towards me! Had he observed my photographing intentions? Was he pleased and wanted to give me a close up of him ‘manning’ his machine? Or was he upset and intent on chasing me off with his toothy monster-of-a-tractor. I pocketed my phone and hastened by, thankful for the breeze that blew away the dust as he barreled towards where I had passed.

The road and fields ahead bore more evidence of deeper cultivating work. Large clods of dirt spilled in a few places onto the usually tidy asphalted strip. A large piece of brick or concrete sat propped against the earthen curb of one raised field. How did that evade previous ploughing events? I wondered. I found the sight of the depth of furrowing in a field to the right of the one tree, to be unsettling. I tried to picture the shape and force of the cultivator attachment which had been used to gouge that deeply, turn the soil so decisively, unearthing debris that could have been buried decades ago from World Wars past. I took a deep breath as the message of the soils began to come clear:

When we decide to follow the Saviour, all the way up the hill—past the turn-around trees of our present life— significant preparation, soil-work, will follow. The Only Wise and Hard-Working Farmer, is not waiting for convenient conditions to prepare His fields and sow His seeds. He knows the time and seasons of the hearts of people and of nations. He knows our life boundaries, and so He coaxes, even urges us into cooperation with His sanctifying purposes, knowing that that is our only way to fulfillment and the reward of the harvest.

When the tines of the Cultivator are lowered into our hardened souls—through circumstances that frustrate us, cross our will, expose us, discomfort us or straight-out break our hearts—the dust and debris can veil God’s good work. We can become confused, disoriented or doubtful, and wrongly conclude that He is trying to kill us, rather than give us more life than we could ever dream possible. But here is the truth which Job records, “He knows the way I take. When He has tested me I shall come forth as pure gold.” Job 23:10 (KJV) He is fully aware of the paths along which we have wandered and the shrapnel our hearts have picked up in the scuffles and blasts of life’s storms. But He also knows there is life in that soil, the Incorruptible Seed has been planted so the rains will come, eventually. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall never cease” Gen.8:22 (ESV) He is always working. I paused at the one tree on the way back and observed the two cultivators on their ‘back and forth’ course. I recalled the words of the psalm “The plowers have plowed on my back; They made their furrows long.” (129:3). I wondered, how many times have I complained and resisted the Husbandman’s preparatory work on my heart. I prayed. ‘Don’t stop Jesus. Please, keep working the soil of my heart; I want to bear luscious fruit for You, in Your time.

Farmer manning a cultivator, Otterberg, Summer 2022

As I returned past the edge of the field of work, the blue tractor was once more on track to encounter me by the roadside. This time I confidently mounted the earthen curb of the field on the opposite side, held up my phone, and clicked, clicked, and clicked again. He slowed, reversed, and paused mid-turn. The tractor’s tines raised out of the dust, almost as in salute. I waved. Was that a smile? Still too much dust. He slowly completed his turn, lowered his tines into the waiting soil and headed back across the field, soon obscured again by a cloud. But I had great shots!

The last field on my way back into the neighborhood was smooth and even. I wished that my preparatory waiting would look as calm, organized and purposeful, instead of like a mix of them all—from smooth, to mixed stubble, to the scraggly, weed-filled field, I passed way back near the one tree. But looking back once again, I was comforted to realize that not one of these well-cultivated fields just transformed that way overnight. No; they each went through their own churning and turning and yearning. The Farmer, Who is always at work, is God-manning the machines traversing the course of my life and I need never wonder whether or not He is smiling at me. He is already seeing the harvest.

The ‘turn-around tree’- Otterberg, early summer 2022

*The one tree refers to a stately monolith-of-a-tree where many turn around on their exercise walk thru this German farm-landscape. I wrote of this in a previously blogged essay titled ‘The Road Ahead’

A field of rapeseed in bloom, Otterberg, Spring 2021

**Rapeseed is a bright-yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage) family; cultivated mainly for its oil-rich seed. Canola is a vegetable oil is made from a hybrid of this seed. Rapeseed is the third largest source of vegetable oil in the world.

***All photos done by the author, Denise S. Armstrong (c) 2022

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