Sunday, May 26, 2013

Abundance, Blessing, Cost

"If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it ...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
Rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it . . .
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields . . .
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality."
 (from Work Song, Part 2: A Vision, Wendell Berry)
Last week I wrote about The Grace Outpouring, a book sent to me by a fellow blogger in the UK. The book explores the idea of God’s blessing, and how we become avenues of that blessing.

This week, thinning peaches on my three young peach trees, I was reminded of the idea of blessing, and of Wendell Berry’s poem: 
“The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.”
I find myself in a season of abundance and great blessing. House wrens serenade me from the backyard box I put up weeks ago. Bluebirds perch on a log just yards from my front window where I leave seeds and bits of suet. Locust blossoms perfume the air, and my woodland beds of trillium, foamflower, and bluebells invite the buzz of nectar-laden bees.

The hummingbird is back, exploring the scarlet honeysuckle I’ve trained above the path from driveway to backyard. The rabbits have multiplied. I meet them along my mossy paths, or surprise them investigating my peas and lettuce nestled in a raised bed made of storm-torn locust limbs.

Most days I feel very rich: rich in friends and family, rich in health and purposeful, interesting work.

But perched on a ladder in a damp, cold wind, picking off tiny peaches so the remaining fruit grows plump and juicy, I find myself thinking about how much I take for granted.

I didn’t know, until I planted peach trees, how much work it takes to grow a peach. I bought them at the local farm market, complained when I succumbed to peaches at the grocery store and found them hard, or tasteless. I’m not sure I even knew what a real peach was like until I moved to Pennsylvania and encountered just picked peaches at a local fair: yellow flushed with pink and red, warm and juicy, sweet with a succulent sweetness food chemists still can’t duplicate.

We live in a flattened world, far from the blessings God intended.

We eat prepackaged food, shipped from somewhere far away.

We hurry through our days, missing the music of early morning birdsong, the beauty of clouds, the soothing whisper of breezes on birch branches, or streams slipping over mossy stones.

We are too often impatient, and hard of hearing.

Peaches, I’m reminded, are an investment in the future. For every peach I eat, there was someone who envisioned an orchard, and planted trees.

And someone who went out in the winter to prune.

And someone thinning the peaches, picking tiny spheres by hand, hour by hour, focused, painstaking work.

All of those investments are part of the blessing of peaches – a blessing easily missed, easily taken for granted.

Roy Godwin, author of The Grace Outpouring, speaks of the many aspects of blessing in God’s kingdom: forgiveness, health, unity, peace.

But none of that comes easily. There’s a cost. Not to the person who receives the blessing, but to the one who gives it.

Just as the grace of Christ’s cross is given freely, but cost him his life. Grace is free, but costly.

I didn’t see this the first time through my reading of The Grace Outpouring.

I found myself wondering, “Why does God answer prayer there, and not so often here?” “Why do they find themselves blessed, while we feel God is far away?”

But reading through again, I was struck by the tenacious obedience of Godwin and Daphne, his wife.

The decision to move to Ffald-y-Brenin, the retreat center, was costly, and disruptive.

The financial challenges were great.

The emotional work of rebuilding lives in a new, unfamiliar place was familiar. I’ve been down that trail: painful, costly, poised between regret and hope, far from hard-earned networks of support.

Finally settled at Ffaldy-Brenin, Roy and Daphne Godwin faced a series of strange leadings: preparation in prayer, risky conversations, small steps of obedience followed by next steps, more difficult, more costly.

Godwin describes a deepening pattern of obedience, a day of prayer in new, unfamiliar ways, a sense of contentment from knowing they’d done what they’d been given to do, then, unexpected fruit: 
“Early the next morning there was a frantic hammering on our front door, and we emerged to find the guests – who had come as individuals and not as a group – up and talking. I thought maybe the fire alarm had gone off, but it turned out that there was a different kind of fire at work.
 "During the night, Jesus had appeared in dreams to each of them and spoken amazing words individually to them, into their lives and their situations, and for each of them this had brought amazing healing. In many cases his words had touched concerns that nobody else knew about, in their childhood, very early on in their lives. There was wonderful healing and a new freedom for them all.
 "Now they wanted an explanation, and our pithy response to these thirty overwhelmed guests was ‘God is blessing you. Let’s just give him thanks, and let’s ask him to keep blessing you.”
 "That wasn’t all. In the following weeks a torrent of water began flowing out of springs above us that had been dry for many years. It was their dryness that had given rise to the name of the area here: Synchbant, which means “dry streambed.” The millstream that had been fed by the springs had dried up and was no more. But now there was a torrent of water"
 (p. 57).
There are mysteries far beyond me. Somehow, what we do ripples out, for good or harm. Careless choices, selfish appetites, harm the land, dry the streams, send birds into silence. And in God’s mercy, the opposite is true as well: costly obedience, acts of generosity and grace, bring healing not just to us, and to others, but to the land itself.

I have not finished with my peaches. I’ve let them grow too tall; some branches are beyond my reach. Balanced on my ladder, I consider: leave them to scatter the tree’s energy? Prune the tree back? Ask for help?

There was a time when I opted for easy, looked for the simplest solution, heated frozen dinners, watched too much TV. Took life for granted. Wondered why God seemed so far away.

Now, I choose to live like a slow growing tree, investing in wholeness, waiting for wisdom, shouldering my share in the cost of grace, so I can share the grace, as I’ll share my peaches later this summer: sweet, warm, surprising. Golden blessings to be savored.