Today is the feast of St. Isidore. The patron of farmers – not someone you hear much about in today’s day and age. Neither did I….until spending last summer working on a farm in the “hills” of western North Dakota. Then, I heard of him often, as the family I worked for prayed to him every day.
I think about farming a lot, because it’s a (not-so) secret dream of mine to farm someday. But also, because I think that the life of a farmer is one that is very conducive to a path of virtue, and to a deeper understanding of the Gospel. Most of us grow up hearing parable after parable, and we understand them in an abstract way, but when you have spent a few months planting seeds, watering, harvesting, tending grape vines, and the myriad of things a farmer does on a daily basis, then you finally begin to understand – not just with your mind – the parables with your whole being. You see now, the constant, repeated attention and correction a grape vine needs grow in the right direction for it to be strong and healthy and bear fruit – “oh, that’s why our Lord says His father is the ‘vine dresser’ (Jn. 15:1)”.
In farming, I learned what it means to be totally dependent on something outside myself. I know it’s true no matter what my path or occupation, but when you’re on a farm you face that reality every day. Will there be enough rain this summer? Oh goodness, that hailstorm just destroyed half of our crops! Look at this bug that is eating all the broccoli. While it is essential to plan (in whatever area of life), it is even more important to recognise that our plans must always be purified, tested, and sometimes our Lord’s plans for us far surpass our meager desires. Even if what brings His plans about appears to be disaster in the moment.
Finally, in living a life that occupies us with tending the land, working with the earth, cooperating with Nature to bring forth new life, we ourselves become more attuned to those inherent rhythms of the Earth and the seasons, which provide the basis for the liturgical year and the rhythms of our own spiritual lives. Having done this myself, I can see the great benefit to my own spiritual (and physical!) life, and I think that if more individuals, families, communities returned to an agrarian life our societal ills would be well on the road to healing.
I’ll close with a quote from our Pope Emeritus:
In Christian tradition, agricultural labour takes on a deeper meaning, both because of the effort and hardship that it involves and also because it offers a privileged experience of God’s presence and his love for his creatures. Christ himself uses agricultural images to speak of the Kingdom, thereby showing a great respect for this form of labour. -Benedict XVI (full text here)