Years ago a university instructor came here for a week of retreat. They read. They wrote. They thought deep thoughts.
We talked about their work over our shared meals and in the evening on the front porch. They knew a lot of stuff and talked in lofty ideals with great creativity. Their whole life had been urban-based. They liked to travel and experience new things. They could rattle off thirty or forty countries they had visited.
Late one afternoon they came to the realization that we were actually a farm…that we did physical labour. So they asked if there was anything that they could do to ‘help’ us? (For some reason visitors who have never done labour actually think that they can help us.) We have some raised vegetable gardens in our farmyard so we said, Sure, why don’t you go pick a half-dozen large carrots for supper and we’ll cook them up? Smiling, they disappeared out the door. Time wore on. And at last they came back empty handed. Which ones are the carrots?, they asked.
I imagine that when Christ stood on the mount and gave his instructions, that when he said the words, Consider the lilies and how they grow, that he was actually looking at lilies. Likewise when he spoke, Consider the birds of the air, that he was actually pointing out birds…in the air.
My Bachelor’s degree was in animal husbandry. At the time I did not realize it, but it was, in part, my study of the Bible that drew me to this field of science. Deeply rooted in the earthiness of life at age seventeen I was a young member of the masses who had no other choice to survive. Following grade twelve my parents effectively told me that it was time for me to leave home, so I marched off to university with the rest of the herd. And while I could not articulate it at the time, I was definitely not looking for a profession, but for a life. My unarticulated instincts told me that…but more…my empathy was looking for a physical, tangible outlet. Had I been raised Catholic I might have found my way to a religious community that was agriculturally based. But I was Protestant. Faith was something separated from one’s daily life. I had first of all a social obligation to meet…a profession, a mortgage, marriage, and kids who would eventually feed back into the same system. That’s the way it was having grown up in a town. But at about age ten I still vividly recall standing in my great uncle’s garden on his farm, and him standing next to me. And he said, Craig, this is all for you! It’s yours. And you may come out here any time you like and pick (and he stooped down and picked a cucumber), and eat (and he took a bite of the cucumber), and then he shook a bit of salt on it in anticipation of the next bite. That moment in time changed my life forever.
My mother was death on dirt. Her house was cleaner than a surgery. Sterilized. Immaculate. Her two mantras: don’t get dirty…and…don’t spoil your appetite.
My uncle effectively burst those dams.
He set me free.
And that freedom translated into being able to actually live out the gospel. In that moment in my uncle’s garden all filters between myself and the world fell away. It was in his garden that my actions in relationship to the physical things of earth became the grist for inductively living my way into tangible, daily life, and through that, in experiencing God.
Seven years later while working for and boarding with a farmer and his family for a summer I was asked what I wanted to do with my life over an evening meal. I said that I wanted to live a simple life, build a cabin, have a large garden, deepen in my love for God, and minister to those who had less. There was a stunned silence. And then everyone almost fell off their chairs with uncontrollable laughter…except me. I felt shamed for having spoken the truth from my heart. But I was on to something…my primitive religious intuition told me so.
The earliest formal mention of lex orandi, lex credendi, from the early writings of the church happens in the fifth century. Translated literally it comes out, the way of prayer is the way of faith. In other words, in order to find God you have to experimentally step out as if there is a God. In Christianity its roots are found in the book of Hebrews, Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that God rewards those who search for God. My wife often tells me of students in her class who refuse to learn. Often belligerent these sit cross-armed with a make-me attitude. And of course they fail. It’s no different when it comes to coming face-to-face with God.
My great uncle defended his invitation that called me to directly experience life against authority (my mother). He put me in organic contact with the exegeses of life flourishing all around me. He threw open the windows of life and illuminated its earthiness. And watching him in church, I intuitively welded his invitation in his garden with his openness to God. I will be grateful for him and for that moment all the days of my life. He was a great man of faith and in his simple action taught me how to directly receive, and through that to build faith, which not surprisingly I again found yesterday using a potato fork, in our carrot patch, outside our ‘cabin’, putting food by for those who have less access to the necessities of life. All that, sure, but more so and especially, the ever deepening presence and joy of God.
And I found myself asking, How can you find God if you don’t know what a carrot looks like?