All of us are governed by cycles that we don’t create. Whether it’s the school year or the fiscal year, the work schedule or the football season, we live in cycles that are mostly out of our control. Today, of course, most of our cycles are created by other human beings. In developed nations, we live in engineered environments that free us from the limits of the natural world. We’re not tied to light and darkness, or even to natural seasons. We have light whenever we want it, hot or cold water on demand. We eat fresh vegetables all year. My car is heated and air conditioned. My iPhone is always within reach.
I’m not opposed to any of this; I like climate control and hot showers and an internet connection. But it does have its drawbacks. I find that I can become too easily divorced from the rhythms that both govern and nurture me. I can start thinking that I’m in charge; that the ability to exert control over the world is a sign of virtue and accomplishment, rather than the gracious gift of a loving God. This is nonsense, of course. Ultimately, none of us are in control of the rhythms that keep us alive. “Harvesting food more efficiently doesn’t make it grow faster,” said a rancher I once knew. “Cattle don’t succumb to production schedules or economies of scale.”
Living in a time before artificial light, before globalization and corporate agriculture, early Christians recognized the need to live within meaningful cycles, and to acknowledge the rhythms that hold us. So at least in the northern hemisphere, our liturgical calendar mirrors the natural seasons. Our hope is born in the darkest time of the year; resurrection takes place as the earth itself is raised. One of the privileges of being part of The Land project is that we are creating a faith community rooted in both natural and liturgical cycles. Even now, to worship there, to stand on the undeveloped ground and share the communion bread and cup, is to remind ourselves of how a community rooted in those cycles can nurture us. To love those rhythms, to mark our lives by them and hear God speak through them, can both ground us and free us. That’s my hope for The Land.
Fourteen years ago, I lived in a small valley, where my house had an east-facing picture window. Each morning, I began my prayer time just before dawn in front of the window. For more than a year, I watched the location of each sunrise: traveling south to north and back, turning at the solstice, the cycle starting over. God’s creation holds us. We are given life, and invited to give life in return. As T.S. Eliot put it, maybe that’s servitude, or maybe it’s freedom. Maybe it’s both.