Imagine a five-year-old witnessing with enthusiasm the full-scale butchering of three dozen geese in one day. It’s enough to make PETA hunt us down with truckloads of paint.
You would think a child fascinated by such gruesomeness would become a serial killer one day.
But that’s the strange beauty of farm life. This same child raises ducklings, chicks, and geese as if they were her darling babies. She sings to her new ducklings, telling her father that these are not to be butchered. They are hers.
She will spend hours in the basement with them, teaching the yellow tufts to follow her.
Though seemingly incongruent, perhaps it’s these things she experiences in farm life that teach her that we must cycle through the dirty, muddy, mucky, painful, violent parts of life along with the joys, nurturing, and love. It’s an introduction more profound and approachable than a violent movie or video game. It’s something she can handle.
I recently read an interview with Joel Salatin at motherearthnews.com, a celebrity in the organic farming world (don’t laugh, we do have celebrities) who describes himself as “a third generation-Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist lunatic.” Salatin’s version of farm life, where he raises, butchers, and sells pork, beef, and chicken in a manner that he calls “beyond organic” is actually therapeutic: “In a word, this is all about healing: healing our bodies, healing our economies, healing our communities, healing our families, healing the landscape, healing the earthworms. If it’s not healing, it’s not appropriate.”
Salatin doesn’t mince words. He believes that children can handle this kind of gorgeous violence better than adults:
“This is why we enjoy having our patrons come out and see the animals slaughtered. Actually, the 7- to 12-year old children have no problem slitting throats while their parents cower inside their Prius listening to “All Things Considered.” Who is really facing life here? The chickens don’t talk or sign petitions. We honor them in life, which is the only way we earn the right to ask them to feed us — like the mutual respect that occurs between the cape buffalo and the lion.”
Maybe one day when creation is made new, the lion will make friends with the lamb and the farmer will no longer need to slaughter her animals. But wouldn’t it be amazing (and perhaps ironic) if this new kingdom came just a little bit more by the healing farming practices of those who respect death just as much as they respect life.
From dog bites to anxiety attacks to the harshest winter anyone can remember (seriously, the farmers whose ancestors immigrated here from the northern parts of Scandinavia are sick of this winter), I have found myself wallowing in the darkness, wandering in cold places, lost in the wilderness.
My husband did a sermon recently on the temptation of Jesus. He noted that Jesus didn’t choose to go into the wilderness, he was lead there (I would venture to guess he might’ve been dragged). For some reason, the knowledge of Jesus’ unchosen time in the wilderness was a comfort. That he didn’t desire any of this death or pain and that he understood my own little version of wilderness because he’d been through it, big time.
When my five-year-old came inside today from playing in the melting snow (more like mud, really), she was gloriously happy, red-cheeked and dirty, making her mother breathless by talking a mile a minute about how she’d collected rotten vegetables to feed the bugs in her ant house, how she’d helped Daddy fix the tractor.
After she ran back outside, she left some of her spring behind.
For months, I’ve been begging for life, crying out for spring, searching for one bright spot of green poking through the wintered earth.
My daughter brought life right to me. Her hands were filthy with it, her eyes sparkling with it, her voice a song to life anew.
I felt so grateful. And I began to sing and cry because I couldn’t help it:
“No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging; since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?*
*I used to think this was an Enya song. But then I discovered that it’s actually an old Quaker hymn. And Love is Christ the Lord. Beautiful!
I am from Nana’s oil paintings imitating the Impressionist masters
from Russian matryoshka nested dolls and Great Aunt Laverne’s tea cup collection
I am from a house atop Cat Mountain with the best sunsets
and the sound of cars on the highway below lulling me to sleep at
I am from the Hill Country and roads cut through limestone
populated with cedar trees whose bark peels off like an old skin
I’m from eccentric introverts and too many gifts at Christmas
from Heatherly and Elena who made me the middle sister
from dad traveling overseas too much doing lots of good things for other people.
I’m from “this too shall pass” and “we have not earned any of the things we have” and
“if the Lord wills and you see me again” before every parting
From “Where are you going my little one” sung every night by Mama before bed til I cried
from the grief of leaving her one day.
I’m from every song, even commercial jingles, sung together in tight harmonies
I’m from Connecticut and Scotland but not really because I’m from Texas Texas Texas
down to great and greater grandparents who gave birth in one room houses in Cleburne
and made sweet potato biscuits and black eyed peas at New Years.
From Anna Christie’s drowned husband and
Otis from Sweden whom she raised as her own when his mother died in childbirth
From Papa who left home at fourteen, spent three years as a POW in Java
and went back to Japan after the war to be a missionary
From diaries written with pre-teen tears about how I’m too fat, fears of death, glass miniature bric-a-brac, rock and shell collections displayed in wooden cubby shelves on my bedroom wall,
from the only time I ignore Mama’s call for dinner or food on any kind is when I’m reading in bed
Now I am from uncaulked baseboards, grimy from years of bringing the outside in
from the smell of fertilizer and fish immulsion mixed with cooking tomatoes
Now I am from the maple trees tapped every year for syrup and boiled down in a black
cauldron in the white winter woods
from poems written at the narrow creek that bends
round from here to the wider streams
Now I am from a tanned farmer whose tender loving hands are often cracked and running
with dirt, blood and rain
from a fairy who feeds the chickens in her princess dress and muck boots
from a cuddly Tom Sawyer who waves at Daddy driving by in the tractor
while holding his dinosaur to his chest
Now I am from a community of idealists, hippies, peace-loving Mennonites
And I am not one of them but I am
I am also from Jesus. And he has been there from the beginning.
I am synchroblogging with SheLoves Magazine today with their series on “I am From.” You can read more or link up here.
I love being able to stay at home with my kids. It’s a gift I try not to take for granted. But the downside of being engaged with them all day is that I don’t often get time for personal … Continue reading →
I’m so honored to be guest posting over at D.L. Mayfield’s blog today. I’ve been so impressed by D.L. Mayfield’s writing and life: she shows such compassion, humor, and love in her work and way of living. She’s recently begun a blog series on “downward mobility.” Check out her thoughtful and moving explorations of living in the upside down kingdom.
I wrote this post over at collaborative blog I started at the beginning of the year. It’s called Renew and Sustain. Thought I’d share it here as well.
A recent video of a Brazilian toddler learning the truth about where his meat comes from went viral. He didn’t understand why anyone would kill animals and eat them.
Afterwards, many “should we really be eating meat?” essays, blog posts, and articles followed.
I understand. The truth is that much of the meat we consume in this country has come from animals raised in filthy and frightening conditions, animals who are killed and slaughtered in equally horrible places that have little respect for their life or death. In many ways, vegetarianism and veganism are “kinder” diets.
But I’d like to give another perspective. Not one that claims everyone should eat meat or that argues that we should be able to kill animals because, after all, they’re just animals. No, I love vegetarians and if my husband didn’t love meat so much, I might just become one.
This perspective is simply the lessons a child can learn growing up on a small farm.
Because of our deeply held moral, ethical and spiritual beliefs about the care we should show all of God’s creatures, my husband raises grass-fed cows for meat and we buy pork and chicken from small local farms that care similarly for their animals.
Matthew has taken to bringing one of our children along with him when he buys a new cow or takes them to be butchered.
After a strange and long winter with flurries even in mid-April, we entered into the heat and rain of spring on bended knee, nearly kissing the green earth in thanks and praise. When our monthly community worship time approached, I decided to plan it as a praise time for the rebirth of spring. But as I planned, I was a little lost and distracted by the sense that the joy I wanted to convey wasn’t the only thing I was feeling.
With bombs, explosions, factory collapses, stories of abuse and pain, friends that are struggling, I can’t seem to shake the grief from my shoulders.
When I was three, I started asking my mom where children go when they die. A few years later, my nighttimes were so plagued by fears of the dark and of the faces on the woodgrains of my closet door that my mother, out of desperation, did a sort of exorcism of the evil from my room. In Jr. High and Highschool, I refused to go to parties where they would show horror movies.
Clearly, I thought about death and dark things quite a lot from an early age. And gradually, I’m ashamed to admit that I began to hole myself off from bad things. I tried to focus instead on beautiful things, good things, funny things, pleasing things, lighthearted things, all in an effort to keep those bad thoughts from my mind.
You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you, knowing already that it doesn’t work to avoid the brokenness of the world, mainly because so much of it is inside me already.
Eventually, I realized that instead of shutting away or hiding from the darker things of the world, I needed to find a way to cope with them to write about them and most importantly, to lament and grieve the brokenness in our world.
Many books of the Old Testament chronicle the lament of Israel, the prophets and even, occasionally, the lament of a king or two. When I began reading Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination with Kelley Nikondeha’s book club, I was struck most of all that those who speak prophetic words often must energize a community or a society into action by speaking directly to the pain and mortality in all of us. For someone like me, it’s easy to pretend that if we just ignore the bad things, they will go away. But it ain’t gonna happen. And those prophetic voices are laboring to do the very opposite: to shake us out of our complacency and open our eyes. And what’s more, I’m realizing that the more I peer into the darkness, into my own brokenness and the pain others endure, looking for some glimmer of hope or redemption, the more I’m seeing the God of all light.
Brueggemann’s book inspires me to listen for those prophetic voices who are speaking into the cracks in our hearts, urging us into compassion and action.
I think this song,
by Ruth Moody is a beautiful take on facing the darkness and letting a song bring light, transforming it from trouble and woe to mystery and joy:
This world is full of trouble and woe/All I see is trouble everywhere I go/I’m gonna sing the trouble that I know
This world is full of sadness and tears/They fill us full of sadness and full of fear/I’m gonna sing until my eyes are clear
I’m gonna dig deep down into my heart/I’m gonna dig deep down, I’m gonna do my part/I’m gonna sing, sing a brand new start
This world is full of promise and love/Promise of a new day with no dark clouds above/I’m gonna sing that world I’m dreamin’ of
This world is full of joy and mystery/ This world will be of joy, I believe it will be/ When we know what it is to be free
This world is full of trouble and woe/All I see is trouble everywhere I go/ I’m gonna sing, sing my way back home
Not usually a big fan of country but I heard this song in a rare moment when I was in the car by myself and could actually listen to MY music.
I’m kind of geeky: I like this song because it uses “Mary” in so many ways. I think it’s quite creative. And I like her voice.