Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Exploring the Meaning of Fallow

The purpose of this post is simply to begin exploring the meaning of the word "fallow" in preparation for application of its meaning at this stage of my journey as a Christ-follower. The word "fallow" takes me back to my childhood days and time spent with my grandpa, Noah Edwards, who did some farming on a 160 acre homestead on Turner Mountain in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. The homestead originally belonged to my grandmother, Nella Mae Elliott's (maiden name) family. I can vaguely remember on occasion that my grandpa would refer to a particular location that had been used too long for multiple growing seasons for a garden plot or even certain sections of the garden where crop rotation needed to occur. After raising such crops as corn, tomatoes, okra, green beans, potatoes, squash, watermelon, canteloupe, etc., not only for personal consumption but also to sell in the community, the land devoted to the garden was "played out" or the nutrients in the soil were in need of replacement somehow. I now wish I had paid more attention.

As it relates to farming, the dictionary lists multiple somewhat differing definitions for the word "fallow." One definition is "usually cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season." A second definition is "to plow, harrow, and break up (land) without seeding to destroy weeds and conserve soil moisture." A third definition is "the tilling of land without sowing it for a season." A fourth definition refers to land that is "left untilled or unsown after plowing." Now, in my personal experience, there is a difference between "plowing" and "tilling." When my dad plowed a field, for example, it was usually in the fall when the ground was "turned over" in large clumps and left to sit dormant through the winter. Then, in the spring, the large clumps were "tilled" and then the grass and weeds were removed with a hoe and/or raked out, etc. to prepare the soil for actual planting.

Quickly approaching the age of 50 in about one month, I confess that there have been multiple times in my life when I have felt that my energy and resources were all "played out" and in need of replacement or restoration. Some of these times through the years included the following: (1) the spring of my senior year in high school; (2) my graduation from college, getting married, and starting law school, which all three occurred within a span of three months; (3) law school graduation, starting a new career, and becoming a parent for the first time; (4) engaging in private law practice, teaching as an adjunct college professor, and becoming a parent for the second time; (5) completing 10 years as a public defender representing death row inmates on appeal, changing careers to teach theology full-time, and beginning a master of arts degree program in theology; and (6) walking with my daughter through a complicated pregnancy while her husband was away for military training, chairing a search committee, welcoming my first grandbaby into the world, and finishing a master's degree in theology. Unfortunately, a regular pattern in my life has been to neglect sabbath or rest in favor of productivity. I am reminded of a comment that a physician made to me years ago when he said: "You cannot burn the candle at both ends and in the middle and then come to me for more wax."

As my grandson is getting ready to turn one-year-old, and my son-in-law is leaving for a few months of training before his 12-month deployment to Afghanistan with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, I will be attending a Sabbath, Study, and Service retreat with valued ministry colleagues. More than ever, I am in need of practical application of the concept of "fallow" in my life. I believe that the definition of sabbath keeping by Margaret Diddams, Lisa Surdyk, and Denise Daniels, brought to my attention by Jeremy Graham, will be most helpful in applying the word "fallow" in my everyday life: "Sabbath keeping broadly defined consists of intentional periods of time set aside to restore equilibrium to the mind, spirit, and body where a person may use his or her religious belief system to reflect on life's personal and spiritual meaning."

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