Fields, Outside And Inside, Reflect God
Published: March 1, 2007
There are many large fields on our monastery property. I have gotten to know some of them quite well these past few years. I know their rolling highs and lows. I know where there are paths through the tall grasses that grow in spring and summer.
The trees are becoming more familiar to me, too—which ones are old, which are new, which are healthy looking and which ones are sickly from some disease. Deer seem to favor some fields over others. Wild turkeys can be seen strutting on the edge of a field near our old barn. A rapid movement of the grass means a cat or bird. On windy days, I like watching the tall grass twist and turn with the wind.
Fields are generous in what they offer—just by being fields. They offer plenty in and of themselves and also offer a view to surrounding forests and give a generous stretch of sky to behold at night. A field is such a blend of many things. Books could be written on what can be found in any field at any one time. At times I wonder what lies beneath our fields: things lost long ago by people long gone. Foundations of dwellings that offered shelter, warmth, hospitality to peoples of another time but not another place. The fields may have a “knowing” of them yet, but we do not yet know how to hear fields speak what they know. But I believe there is a knowing to all living things.
All those acres are sustained by a constant interplay of decay and growth. The field takes in the rain, the sun, the cool of night, the droppings of animals and eventually their lifeless bodies. Birth takes place there, too, of creatures—creatures tiny and footed and winged.
Some areas of the field flourish in that they get more sun. Other areas show a lack of light and moisture, and those areas cannot sustain as much growth. Yet it is one field, one totality of growth and its many possible expressions. It affords as much growth as it can. It is a mini ecosystem, a literal slice of life through which I walk and on which I sometimes lay and think about things—or just fall asleep. Any field offers much to think about, to sleep on. It offers all it has to a weary body, or a curious mind, or wandering feet, or all three at once.
While at vespers this evening, I looked about me at the monks. How different we are one from another. Some of us came from families where there was a generous spread of goodness. Others did not. I have heard stories of cruelty that have deeply scarred some of us. There are varying levels of education so that words and concepts come with ease to some, while to others such things are hard and even painful to absorb.
Some monks have a happy and giving spirit. Others struggle to get out of themselves and therefore carry a lot of aches that make it hard for them to enter more fully into the mainstream of life here. There are monks who are careful to follow every dictum of the Rule. And there are those who take the Rule lightly. I looked about me and thought of the fields nearby and their beauty. A field sustains so much life. And yet there are areas that do not fare as well as other areas. It struck me tonight that it never occurred to me to pity those less nourished areas.
I always just looked at dryness or sterility as a part of the field, period. Those areas never diminished my sense of or appreciation for the whole, a whole that is beautiful and life-giving.
We are born into this field of life and have no control as to where we sprout. Some of us are given much light and water, proper amounts of shade. These lives know the things of love because they were given them.
They do well through their nights and days. They learn to trust seasons. Some of us know the pain of not having enough light or moisture. Growth does not come as easily, simply because of coming to be in a place that lacked those good things needed for growth. Like any body, there are parts that are weak and hurting. Learning the ways of love is not as “given” to some as it is to others.
Robert Hamma, in his beautiful book “Landscapes of the Soul,” describes the cosmos as the body of God. All that we touch and feel and smell is of God—not “from” God, but of God’s very being. I was so struck by that. The thought has lingered with me and came to me as I walked in a field earlier this day, and I warmed to the thought of actually being so near God that I could touch him, and be as near to him as taking all that field to me with every sense I have.
And I thought of the weak areas of the field, those sorry looking parts where growth is minimal and scant. Somehow, I know God shares in that weakness too.
The field was not far from me as I sang vespers just hours ago. I chanted the psalms in a field of the human, a field of flesh and spirit, strengths and weaknesses, hidden depths and ranges of beauty, sorrow, peace and anxiety. A field of the human, a field of monks.
We are like a pasture. We are still and welcome those who come our way and rest with us for a while, and who may then move on. We, too, are a small slice of life, a little ecosystem. We strive to grow with what we have been given, and pray for a sustained awareness that each of us gives from where he is “at” and does the best he can. Together, and only together, God offers something of who He is through us. We welcome him, welcome his thoughts, his tiredness, his need to walk or sleep in this field that is of his making. We trust him to some day spread the fullness of his light everywhere, to our little spot here, and to the furthest fields of creation.
I like this field that is my life. It gives me rest, a place to walk, to think, to touch something of God in the grasses and soil, in the lives about me, in those lives far from me, in other fields, all places of blessings.
Father James Stephen Behrens, OCSO, is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. He is the author of “Grace Is Everywhere: Reflections of an Aspiring Monk,” which is available at the monastery Web store at www.trappist.net.