I lean back in my chair after Sunday dinner and stare at the field outside my window. I am looking at corn. In the latter half of October, I should be looking at the dark, fecund Rozetta soil at rest, stubbly with the residue of another completed harvest. But instead, I am looking at corn.
Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman, defined himself as a farmer first. Perhaps he was gritting his teeth through a late harvest of his own when he wrote, “It is thus with farming, if you do one thing late, you will be late in all your work.” Indeed. Life in farm country has its own cadence, and like any other rhythm, when it is marred by unsteadiness, the song starts to sound off-kilter.
Those who farm that Rozetta soil have grown quieter now, but their preoccupation over the unpicked fields is evident enough. It’s in their shrugs of resignation and in their strained smiles; most of all, though, it’s in their eyes. Those eyes show disappointment as they gaze at the weather radar to find another looming green and yellow mass of pixilated bad news undulating toward their fields. Those eyes show fatigue as they scan the heavens for a frustratingly fickle sun; withholding her warmth and light like a cheating wife, she’s providing little more than a shadowy chill lately.
I take prayer requests in church; the calloused hands of several farmers go up. “Weather for harvest,” is the plea. We pray together as a body of believers, asking Almighty God to dry the fields so the combines can roll through.
Many of us in the congregation who do not farm also pray in sheer thankfulness for those who do, though our gratitude is hardly selfless. We recognize our dependence on these men and women who compose the economic backbone of our community. They work in a vocation that is always haunted by the specter of constant, grave risk. Get a group of them together and you are sure to see some prosthetic devices and hands with missing digits. In fact, my own ministry in farm country began five years ago with a dash to a hospital; a neighbor lay in a coma with a broken back, another casualty of the frenzied and exhausting pace of harvest. By God’s grace he survived and has recovered, but not without painful, permanent reminders. I’ve known too many others who were not as blessed.
This nation is fed and nourished through their labors, so it goes without saying that the farmers’ work is a sustaining enterprise. But it occurs to me that the sustenance they provide extends far beyond pantries, dinner tables, and supermarket shelves. In my estimation, no one group does as much to sustain and preserve our most precious – and endangered – American traditions, those qualities and customs upon which this nation’s greatness was built.
Consider again that injured neighbor I mentioned. Shortly after the accident, his community rallied around him and his family, and it was my privilege to watch as they marshaled their combines and grain trucks, bringing in his crop for him. Where else in society, aside from our military, is that kind of Christ-like self-sacrifice commonly practiced? When was the last time you heard about a team of C.P.A.s donating their skills and resources to do the work of a competitor who was suddenly hospitalized at the height of tax season? This isn’t an indictment of accountants; I’m only underscoring how the tones and textures of farm life sustain critical values that are fading – or are altogether absent – from other dimensions of our cultural landscape.
Too often institutions like academia and the media hold this nation in contempt, mocking patriotism as the passé practice of rednecks and rubes; in rural areas, however, love of country is still a virtue. Watch television or a movie today and you’re likely to see home life portrayed as a nightmare of dysfunction governed by clueless or cruel parents; but family is still cherished among the people of the soil. This nation, which was founded on Christian principles, is growing increasingly indifferent and hostile toward the people and the object of the Christian faith, yet many is the farm family that remains a bastion of reverence for Christ and His Word.
A cynic could read this and dismiss it as a sentimental sop aimed at my constituency, I suppose. It isn’t. My neighbors have lovingly accepted me and my family; they have cared for us and supported us. We take their trials personally now. How could we do any less?
And our friends, these dear people, are struggling in discouragement. Please join me in praying them through this late harvest. Make no mistake: They sustain us in more ways than we realize.