Farmer-poet-essayist Wendell Berry claims that there are things about being a farmer which can only be known by living on the land, tending to it in-season and out-of-season, watching how the wind sweeps across it, observing how water flows over it, seeing the tracks of animals that call it home, and listening to the wisdom of those who’ve given their lives to land.
One becomes a farmer by keeping company with other farmers and by doing the hard work of farming, even before one knows fully why or how to do it. Berry wrote:
My grandson, who is four years old, is now following his father and me over some of the same countryside that I followed my father and grandfather over. When his time comes, my grandson will choose as he must, but so far all of us have been farmers. I know from my grandfather that when he was a child he too followed his father in this way, hearing and seeing, not knowing yet that the most essential part of his education had begun.
And so in this familiar spectacle of a small boy tagging along behind his father across the fields, we are part of a long procession, five generations of which I have seen, issuing out of generations lost to memory, going back, for all I know, across previous landscapes and the whole history of farming.
. . . I am in the middle now between my grandfather and my father, who are alive in my memory, and my son and my grandson, who are alive in my sight. If my son, after thirty more years have passed, has the good pleasure of seeing his own child and grandchild in that procession, then he will know something like what I know now.
This living procession through time in a place is the record by which such knowledge survives and is conveyed. When the procession ends, so does the knowledge (Life is a Miracle, pp. 151-153).
Learning to be a Christian is like learning to be a farmer: we tag along behind Jesus, hearing what he trains us to hear, seeing what he points out to us, and doing what he shows us how to do. Over time, we become like him.
Being a Christian is not mostly or mainly about having certain ideas or affirming particular beliefs. It is, instead, a whole way of life. Christians learn to do all of life in the Jesus way.
He teaches us to love, not first by having us read essays on the nature of love, but by taking us where hurting and lonely people are and challenging us to be their friends and helpers.
He shows us how to trust, not first by offering us arguments for the reasonableness of faith, but by putting us in situations where we have no choice but to lean on God and to draw on strength we don’t know we have.
He enables us to forgive, not first by having us explore complex theories of justice and mercy, but by forgiving us of our own sins, restoring our own brokenness, and then calling us to do for others what he has done for us.
Just as farmers learn to farm by farming with more seasoned farmers, we learn to pray by praying with men and women who live in communion and conversation with God; to serve by serving alongside people who’ve learned the profound joy of meeting Jesus in the faces of the marginalized, and to serve by serving, and to give by giving in the company of those who are confident that abundance, not scarcity, is the Creator’s way with the world.