letting the land lie fallow
(Originally published on June 3, 2016)
I want you to know where I’ve been, and what I did once I got there, but the last time I stitched more than six sentences together was back in December, so let me first remind you of what was said (it’ll add up for later):
“I’m not the same person I was a month ago, last week, or yesterday. Years and all these exhaustive, demanding, sharp life events eventually caught up and crashed into me tsunami style. It was a Sunday afternoon on a walk with Austin when I became my own ragdoll, rolling under waves and water, thrown this way and that way, breathless, breaking to pieces.
It must’ve happened because I finally made space in my calendar to fall apart, which is related to the question: how much self-talk do we talk just to keep ourselves sane until a more suitable time?
That night I crawled on palms and knees into bed, fell down next to the terrible pain in my chest and sobbed out that universal question: “What is the meaning of life?” (It is good for the girl with so many answers to sit in the dark without them for a while, to be cradled by a long shadow of doubt. Isn’t this an essential place which provokes more hunger for God?)
In hindsight all that emotion can sound sort of silly and stageworthy–even to myself–except the raw and the grind and the fracturing was real and there’s only so much a body can take, eh?
And maybe I should’ve seen it coming . . . how I had reached a fullness of myself. Do you know what I mean? Every now and again there are reasons why we outgrow our own clay container; we outgrow our former selves and the breaking to bits is a sign of those times–the busting before the next burgeoning.
In more words: Who I was couldn’t support who I am becoming.
So here I sit with my splinters and limbs hanging out on the line to dry, littering the street and sidewalk. Look how my ideals are leaking onto the sheets with no skin to hold them in. Ashes to ashes we all fall down, or take a rake in the forehead when we don’t see it lying there in the leaves.
I can’t rightly recall how many times brokenness and I have ridden the merry-go-round together, but there is one thing I can ascertain from my every experience with it:
Just about the entirety of what I think I know when I’m feeling whole goes right out the window. And that’s okay. Because who am I but a sojourner in a body I didn’t make, in a land I didn’t create.
What do I actually know of anything?
Humility and humanity must go hand-in-hand. Which is to say: humility and humanity come from the same root word meaning “of the ground; earth”. There are seasons when we should go so low we hit it with our faces. And by “it”, I mean: gravel, grit, forest floor or floorboards. Hit it. Dust thou art and to dust thou must return.”
I had to step off the hamster wheel my life was spinning on because when a woman wakes up one day, looks in the mirror and doesn’t see bright eyes or healthy flesh, but a skeletal reflection from Ezekiel’s dry bones instead, she knows she’s not okay. She knows it’s the beginning of someone else’s end. And by “someone else’s end”, she means: a function of her former self.
Do you know what I’m saying between these honest lines?
My body had burned-out to the dark point of manifesting certain, ongoing symptoms of what is considered to be the great malady of the 21st century–soul sickness. Soul sickness! And my personal succumbing to this disease looked everyday like stress, sleeplessness, seriousness, worry, disillusionment, depression and existential anxiety.
(Even in this low place I’d sunk, I didn’t berate or harangue myself because I knew that growth and soul are still cultivated with depth and intention while and necessarily being shaped by shadows, pain, or binges of foolishness.)
I’ve read the psychological reports and now understand there’s only so much a person can take of these shifty symptoms before they turn into fixed physical ailments. So. When this realization hit, I didn’t pass go, I didn’t collect $200. I did make a list of “doings” that I determined were contributors to my state of un-health and I shut them all down. STAT. Period. No compromises or caveats.
Shortly after this decision and on an unusually warm December day, I went down to the brackish water behind our house to cool and smooth my troubled mind, to watch the tide, to stick soles and toes into something concrete–like shore; shells and sand. And on this riverbank, with the silence and salt air, is where my deep soul work began again.
It was the starting point of recovery from my inner illness, inner illness caused by the toll of piled-up decision and circumstance, from living on this crazy hill of beans; the western world we’ve made with human hands and hairbrained ideas. And it was in this place of rest and unraveling that I was asked to un-know everything I thought I knew; to become unencumbered by meaning:
Am I on top of the world, hung upside down in the dirt, or thrust out of orbit altogether?
Is it an apple core, an oak tree, a kill switch or original sin?
What is light, what is dark, what do I believe, what is mystery?
I’m asked to come new from the womb. To unfocus my eyes. To unwind my world from the reason I’ve built around it. To become, as Annie Dillard writes, “Eden before Adam gave names.”
The sudden lack of definition bowls me into this abyss where I am simply held by the Holder who handles it all together. I am naked and washed, salted and swaddled. See me at the beginning, bobbing my neck around like a newborn; empty, bald and transfixed by blurs of color. See me sleeping more and breathing the breath of a baby who knows her air is not her own, that her body is being played like a flute by a master Musician.
My first word is Amma, then Abba.
About halfway through full shutdown mode, I stumbled into a podcast/sermon about the Israelites and their Shemittah law, a God-given commandment requiring the Jewish community to take a break from their labors every seventh year; let their hands and land lie fallow.
Exodus 23:10-11 “You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow.”
Fallow [fal-oh]: adjective — (of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production.
In an article on Shemittah, Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky concurs with a scholarly consensus that the Israelites never honored this Divine decree stating that soil and soul must take every seventh year as rest, listen to this:
“The Jewish people were commanded to let the land lie fallow every seventh year. They didn’t. As a result they were exiled, then the Torah tells us: “I will scatter you among the nations; I will unsheathe the sword after you; your land will be desolate, and your cities will be a ruin. Then the land will be appeased for its sabbaticals during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your foes; then the land will rest, and it will appease for its sabbaticals. All the years of its desolation it will rest, whatever it did not rest during your sabbaticals when you dwelled upon her.” (Leviticus 26:33-35)
I’m told that the period of time in which the Israelites were exiled matched–with shocking precision–the exact number of Sabbatical cycles Israel had dishonored: “As the Babylonian exile lasted for seventy years, the land was compensated for the “rest” of which had never been observed.”
Which is to say: If the people would not let the land rest while they inhabited it, then it would rest in their absence.
Who is this God that sanctions exile for those who don’t value the celestial instruction to let it all be still?
Or, let me say it this way:
When God commands something, [S]he is not speaking in suggestions or hypotheticals, [S]he is not saying how the created order ought to be, [S]he is clueing humans in; telling us how the created order is. This is what it means to bear the image of God. For better or for worse, we are micro mirrors reflecting how the universe has been structured from the very beginning and when we dishonor or disobey that fundamental structure, things begin to deteriorate.
I.e. If you don’t to this, that will happen.
In more words, I don’t need to be a genius to comprehend that I had been spit into exile within my own body. I had been conquered by the symptoms of too much plowing and producing and usage; overwork and under rest.
See my shallow, sterile soil. Hear me crying out from a foreign and desolate place and the prophets in my life confirming the reasons for me being there.
In the midst of the neon-lit and noisy, 100 miles-per-hour insanity of our modern world, it took a tremendous amount of resolve to say “yes” to a season of fallowness, to [in]actively make my flesh fertile again. To become nutrient dense like the newborn baby I was invited to be born again as that day down by the river.
It took a tremendous amount of patience and intention to read my body and her symptoms like a map to my soul’s sickness, to the compacted group of affairs donating to my inner disease. I began by tracing my days backwards and the direction of my feet forward, watching every minuscule activity and decision as a evidence to my own mystery.
The time I spent fallow gave me the space to learn reasons why grief came to my animating force, gave me wisdom for the road ahead, and resolution for what I would never ever do to myself again.
And I go so gently these days, with careful attentiveness to the nuances and needs of how my unique soul was shaped and made; her singular sensations and song. I have to not-doa thousand things every day just to function fruitfully, most of which involve forms of OVERAGE–over-production, over-involvement, over-busyness.
I have to-do a few things every day to function fruitfully, most of which involve meditations and silences and 85% of my waking hours being spent immersed in the poetics of ordinary life, in the things I can touch with these ten fingers–my children, husband, housework, creation.
I know more of who I am than ever before and have fresh recognition of how fragile and susceptible we homo sapiens are to the systems of the prevailing world and how they corrupt the natural rhythms our bodies, minds and souls were designed to live by. And for that reason alone our current family conversation is rotating around how we can integrate a personalized adaptation of Shemittah into the cadence of our weeks and years.