When I ministered with the Jesuits in Detroit in the 90’s, I made regular trips between Detroit and Cleveland where my family and religious congregation were. Whenever I did, I was always amazed at all the farmland I saw in northwestern Ohio. For miles and miles, on both sides of the turnpike, flat fields stretched as far as the eye could see. In summer these fields burgeoned with green crops, mostly corn and soybeans. But in the fall, after the harvest, these same fields were brown and bare, plowed up and lying fallow.
I love the word fallow. This rich and beautiful word conjures up images of land that is intentionally left unseeded, thus giving it time to rest and reclaim its nutrients. The fallow fields remind me that I need such times in my life, as well. Times when I rest from producing. Times when I reclaim my nutrients.
What constitutes fallow time? It varies from person to person. During my fallow time, I watch clouds float by, I finger the bark of an old oak tree, I note the forward progress of a woolly worm, I listen to the steady patter of the rain on my roof, I stroke a cat nestled on my lap, I watch the finches on my bird feeder, I mull over a line from scripture, I stroll through my neighborhood, I stir the tapioca on the stove, I slip into a warm bubble bath.
During my fallow time, I do very little. Instead, I be. Though it may look as if I’m wasting time, I’m actually hallowing time. Fallow time hushes the superficial, thus allowing the beneath to speak. It quiets my incessant reasoning, thus inviting a deeper intelligence to come forth. Some of my best writing has arisen from my fallow time. Some of my best praying too.
During fallow time I also remember. I remember my oneness with a God who is truly and deeply and madly in love
with me, with all of us. I remember my profound longing for this God, for Jesus, for the Spirit. I remember my connectedness with all who have ever lived, who are living now, and who will live in the future. I remember my oneness with planet earth, with her rivers and forests and pandas and stars.
Fallow time exalts me. It tells me I am more than what I do. It humbles me, joining me to the ageless rhythms and yearnings of the cosmos. Fallow time nudges me toward specific gospel action in my particular time and place.
Jesus loved fallow time. During his fallow time he pondered the miracles of everyday life: lilies bobbing, bread rising, wine fermenting, hens sheltering their chicks, and gangly camels squeezing through narrow gates. He pondered the mystery and goodness of the ordinary people he met: a Roman soldier filled with compassion for a servant, a leper returning to say “thank you,” a widow depositing two small coins—all she had to live on—into the temple treasury, a bleeding woman daring to believe in the power of a single touch. In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before his arrest, Jesus begged to be saved from the horrific death he was about to endure. But then he added, “Not my will, but yours be done.” That
was the voice of his fallow time.
This week we in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving Day, a day often preceded by intense activity for many of us—especially if we’re hosting the Thanksgiving dinner. In the midst of our busyness, let us not forget our need for fallow time. This Thanksgiving, as we’re thanking God for all the blessings in our lives, let us not forget to thank God for the gift of fallow time.
The song today is “Be Still, My Soul” by Kari Jobe. The melody is “Finlandia,” the beautiful symphonic hymn written by the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1889. May this song be a part of your fallow time today.
Do you find a need for fallow time in your life? If so, what constitutes fallow time for you?
What are you particularly giving thanks for this Thanksgiving Day?
PS: My new book is out. It’s called The Lord Is My Shepherd and is a series of reflections on Psalm 23. It’s a small book (4″ x 6″) that easily slips into a purse or pocket. The reflections focus on themes such as trust, gratitude, healing, forgiveness, hope, and more. Each chapter also includes reflective questions for personal use or group sharing. Each chapter concludes with a prayer. You can order a book through my book store, Amazon.com, or Twenty-Third Publications. Thank you!