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  • Pastor Karen Olson

Fallow ground, hallowed ground

As we edge into month six (but who’s counting?) of pandemic life, I keep coming back to an image of a fallow field.


For many of us, the things that normally capture our energy, time, and attention have been put on hold or radically shifted over the past weeks and months. Many of us are used to measuring time by busyness and activities and measuring our value by productivity and accomplishments. We get through monotonous days by looking forward to future excitement—parties, travel, adventure. Pandemic life has made all this difficult, if not impossible.


If our lives were farmland, in many ways we would be lying fallow right now.


Fallow farmland looks pointless. A fallow field is left unplanted, perhaps covered in weeds. Instead of being tended and cultivated, the ground is left to rest and (apparently) do nothing. It could be producing a harvest, but instead it’s lying unused, wasted.


But what is the purpose of fallow ground? If you know farmers, you know that they do most things with great intentionality, seeking the good of the land and the creatures they tend. Fallow ground is not wasted, but purposefully allowed to rest and regenerate. Soil nutrients and biology are rebalanced, and pest and disease cycles are disrupted.


And often, fallow fields are planted with a cover crop. Again, this can look like a waste—to purposefully plant a field with something that can’t be harvested seems strange and misguided. But cover crops protect and enhance the soil, keeping fields from eroding and enhancing or adding nutrition. Their roots can even break up compacted soil and make it more hospitable to future plantings.


Sometimes, a field is left fallow for just a growing season, but at other times, for one to five years. That’s a long time to lie in wait, for farm fields and for humans.


But—fallow ground produces a greater harvest when it is eventually planted.


What is lying fallow in your life, and in the life of our church? What usual activities and routines, events on the calendar, markers of success and accomplishment have been stripped away during this pandemic season?


Can you see this season, not as a waste, but as a purposeful rest, an opportunity to break disruptive cycles and patterns and nourish the soil of your life, so that a greater future yield is possible?


And what cover crop might you choose to plant, during this fallow time? What might you choose to invest in or practice that doesn’t accomplish anything, that doesn’t produce a harvest, but enriches you and helps you rest? Can you measure these things, not by what they allow you to do, but by what they help you become?


In this fallow season of our church life, and our lives as individuals and families and communities, my prayer is that God will bless us with restorative, healing rest, and genuine, deep enrichment of our hearts and souls. That way, when it is time to plant again, we will sink our roots deep into healthy, vital soil and bear the fruit that only comes after fallow ground.


The prophet Hosea invites us to this work in chapter 10, verse 12, when he says:


Sow for yourselves righteousness;

reap steadfast love;

break up your fallow ground;

for it is time to seek the Lord,

that he may come and rain righteousness upon

you.NRSV

May God transform our fallow ground into hallowed ground as we rest and wait during this season.

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