A Crop of Sacramental Beauty

           Update on those 38 holes to fill. Yesterday I planted 8 chestnut oaks (mostly 10 to 12 feet tall), 3 Trident maples, 2 Red maples, and one October Glory maple. Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed work more. There was the immediate pleasure of seeing small changes to the pasture mixed with the long-term prospect of possibly seeing those same trees when they are broad and mature.

           You might have gathered from recent entries here, or from conversations if our paths have crossed in the past few months, that I’m reading a lot of Wendell Berry these days. He is a farmer and writer in Kentucky and I think his writing resonates with me as a land “owner,” a term I’m not sure that he’d endorse. Berry makes me wish that I knew something about farming, about reclaiming land, about plants and animals and farm equipment. But I don’t. I’m willing, even trying, to learn a bit but I know that it’ll be a long time before i set up a booth at the Farmer’s market.

           A very comforting thought struck me a couple of weeks ago, however, and crossed my mind again yesterday as I moved 200 pound ball and burlapped trees, shoveled dirt, hauled water, and sleeved the trunks. The thought was this:

           Beauty is a crop.


           The idea might sound rather dreamy and meaningless but it is energizing to me to know that God made, uses, and blesses beauty in His kingdom. And on the way to making this place ‘productive,’ it heartens me to think that, by simply preparing it to be a place of rest for those who visit, I am acting consistently with Him Who promised “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” (Isaiah 61:3, a passage which continues, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.”) A well-placed tree and nicely mown field, and efforts to create an unlittered view from the front porch, while not agriculture in the strictest sense of the word, is, for me, well worth the labor involved.  ….   Beauty is a crop.

           For years, I’ve used a small book, A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie, to guide me through my morning and evening prayers. In addition to eloquent petitions, his writings amount to a body of divinity that encourage perceptions of God as awesome and other, but also near and loving. This morning’s prayer included this passage:

    “O God without me, forbid that I should look today upon the work of Thy hands and give no thought to Thee the Maker. Let the heavens declare Thy glory to me and the hills Thy majesty. Let every fleeting loveliness I see speak to me of a loveliness that does not fade. Let the beauty of earth be to me a sacrament of the beauty of holiness made manifest in Jesus Christ my Lord.”

And so, with 23 trees to go, I make it my continuing task to be farmer, loosely defined, in pursuit of a crop of sacramental beauty. It’s good work and I’m glad to do it.