Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places And her wilderness He will make like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving and sound of a melody. – Isaiah 51:3
Last Fall, during the week I spent with my Spiritual Direction cohort, we were asked to go outside on the seminary campus and do a silent walking meditation. It was a crisp, bright October day, the kind where the sky is a deep, luminous blue set against the burnt umber of slowly turning leaves. But I was antsy and irritable. I was 3 months’ post-op from a hysterectomy and pelvic reconstruction surgery. I had pushed myself hard to be there that week, and although the topic of discernment was one I had been looking forward to, I wasn’t enjoying it much. Even when my instructor suggested going outside for the walking meditation, I inwardly grumbled. I just wanted to find a quiet place to lay my head and sleep.
Once outside, we were instructed to walk around slowly, paying attention to the environment around us and to discern any messages it might offer us. Once we felt that tug or message, we were to sit, reflect, pray or write what we received. I love this sort of meditative exercise, but usually prefer not to have so many other people close by. It’s like when there are too many people walking the labyrinth at the same time and you’re trying not to overtake them on a spiral. But, I dutifully walked around the grassy field on the campus and prayed to hold my wits together.
In time, I wandered over to the community garden, which was past its summer season. Aside from a few herbs and marigolds, the beds were picked over and weedy. I didn’t see evidence of any Fall planting either. As I poked around, I noticed a few of the beds were completely empty. Nothing had been planted in them in the past season and the soil hadn’t been turned over. At that moment, the words “fallow ground” unfolded like a banner. And I sat down.
For as long as I can remember, I have received messages and guidance through images, words, and metaphor. I attribute that to years of training in the fine arts, and a degree in Creative Writing. In the healing work I facilitate with clients, this spiritual discernment gives me additional information on how to support their journey.
“Fallow ground” was a message from Spirit to let natural rhythms determine the ebb and flow of my life. Sabbath is the gift we have been given to rest with all of creation and be cared for by God. Sometimes it is a day of rest, and sometimes it is a season of rest. Sabbath is a time of renewal, of restoring energy and resources in order to serve and grow with joy and gratitude.
Although I had been recovering reasonably well from surgery, I hadn’t been doing much resting. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed most of the time. While I was glad to have had the surgery I needed, I had only begun the grieving process of suddenly leaving one stage of life for another. I had mostly focused on my physical recovery, so that I could return to my busy life, not taking accepting that recovery is a multi-dimensional process. I found myself wading through unexpected moments of grief. I had unexpected flashbacks to the birth trauma I’d endured and my c-section recovery, of which I only remember fragments. I was unhappy about the weight I’d gained in a year’s time. Yet, I put on a good face and kept going.
The completely bare garden bed was a “full stop” moment. God was saying to me in Her infinite and loving wisdom: “You don’t need to do anything right now. You just need to rest and heal. Everything else will happen in its own time.” As an amateur gardener, I know you can’t work the soil, depleting it of its nutrients, and expect it to produce much. Weeds can grow in the cracks in the sidewalk, but they are also holding on for dear life.
One of the things that came out of that discernment week was realizing that I didn’t want to continue with the Spiritual Direction program even though I had completed a significant amount of the coursework. I loved many aspects of it, but it wasn’t coming together for me the way I’d hoped. I had also left a part-time church job several months prior. I struggled with conflicted feelings of walking away from meaningful activities that were no longer feeding my soul. I have a hard time letting go of “uncompleted work.” The truth is that I needed the rest more than I needed to feel like I had to hold it all together.
My husband graduated from seminary this past May and in July, we took a family vacation to Europe. It wasn’t very restful, but it was inspiring. It fulfilled a dream of many years to see works of art and architecture I had studied in books or class, to walk along ancient cobblestone streets, visit and pray in some of the holiest cathedrals in the world, and experience cultures far older than my own. It gave me renewed energy and purpose. I am planning and teaching the classes, workshops and retreats I had put on hold for the past couple of years. At the suggestion of my director, I moved my credits over to the Spiritual Formation program and will be able to complete the course work at a reasonable pace.
The Sabbath season may be over, but I’m also mindful that my energy is different than it was before. My body is different than it used to be. Self-care is important and necessary. I don’t bounce back as quickly after a full couple of days. I’m less afraid to ask for help. I make time to meet friends for coffee and conversation because my heart was missing these connections. I meditate, pray and walk more often. After a long creative absence, I am thinking about poetry and art again. In our seasons of life, fallow turns again to hallow in good time, if we are faithful in allowing the process to unfold.
May we all be holy and wholly renewed so God can make a new thing to spring forth in our wild ground of being.
(Photo credit: Dana L. Young)