A Reflection on Death, Detachment, and Farming (by Mary Ford)

Nov 23, 2015 by

A Reflection on Death, Detachment, and Farming (by Mary Ford)

November is the month that the Church traditionally preaches on and remembers the souls of the dead. Along with that is a constant reminder in Scripture to prepare ourselves for our own final days. This might seem a rather morbid focus, but in reality, it is a time to be sincerely thankful: Christ has conquered death, and our way to Paradise with Him is open! St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite saints, went so far as to dub the end of our earthly life as “Sister Death”. He saw death as a welcome friend, because it was the last door to go through to get to our Lord in Heaven.

Having said all this, I have to admit that I’ve always struggled a bit with a fear of death and a desire to cling to life. The Benedictine Rule instructs monks to keep death ever before you, and I’ve often found this particular instruction hard to swallow. I’d much rather think of things that give me joy. But, I suppose, that’s just it: death should not be an occasion of sadness, but one of joy. It is the gateway to Heaven and to all of our deepest longings in our sweet Lord. I know that what really needs adjustment is not the Rule, but my own attitude.

Fortunately for me, Kevin and I farm.

As a farmer, you are constantly exposed to death and dying, from the simple death of the year during fall and winter to the death of one’s animals when it’s time to butcher. Occasionally, as a farmer, you have to face the reality that animals get sick and die, often for unexplainable reasons. Accidents happen; crops die, too, of course, both through harvest and through losses due to climate and weather, pests, and small toddlers ripping up the wrong plants from the garden (no experience there at all; note minor sarcasm). Death happens, and frankly, it’s simply a part of life, ironic as that sounds. I can’t help but think that one reason the world lacks joy today is that the average western person is largely disconnected from death. They are disconnected to the point that they are unable to cope with the thought of death. It’s a natural instinct, of course, to cling to life, but when one clings to it to the point of refusing to acknowledge the reality of death, dying becomes a scary thought.

Farming gives you the chance to detach yourselves from the things that make us want to cling to this world too much. After all, while there are many good and wonderful things on this earth, all of those gifts are merely shadows of Heaven. C.S. Lewis dubbed the last chapter of “The Last Battle” in his Chronicles of Narnia series “Farewell to Shadowlands”. He was not simply referring to earth as a place of darkness or shadows, but pointing out that shadows have a source, a better and more Real reality. He portrays the old Narnia as a duller, darker, murkier version of the Heavenly Narnia:

“…[The old Narnia] was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here…You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered…have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door…And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” (Lewis, 195)[1]

While this doesn’t discount the goodness of the earthly things we love, those same things point us to the better, “more real” ones to come. Note, too, in the quote above, the acknowledgement that the new Narnia is different from the old. Things that are unfamiliar to us can be frightening, especially if the difference seems great. One of the goals of detachment from worldly things, that which our Lord and His apostles urge so much in Scripture, is to make the unfamiliarity of the life to come more familiar, and thus more desirable. The Lord wants us to understand the beauty of Eternal Life with Him, to long and even pine for Him every moment of the day. It’s hard to do so if you have not made yourself familiar with Him throughout your life. It is impossible to love that which you know nothing of.

Through the hardships our family has endured in farming, both the expected and unexpected, we have had to learn to hold our hands open to the Father, knowing that all we have is gift. We have had to detach ourselves from the expectation that everything is going to work out perfectly; in fact, perfection is a rare achievement in farming. Along the way, we have had to name our pigs things like “Bacon” to remind ourselves of the pending doom of the animals we love. We have comforted our children and wiped tears from chubby cheeks when beloved cats have died, telling them that it was okay to be sad, but to always remember that God would one day make “all things new” in Heaven for us. While this doesn’t take the sadness away, it gives them (and us) hope for the joys of the world to come.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite parts of Lewis’ The Last Battle:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are–as you used to call it in the Shadowlands–dead.  The term is over:  the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended:  this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page:  now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read:  which goes on forever:  in which every chapter is better than the one before. (Lewis, 210-211)[2]

 May God bless you and your families this Thanksgiving and coming Advent Season!

In Christ,

Mary Ford

 

[1] Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle. HarperCollins Publishers. 1956. Print.

[2] Ibid.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert Collins

    Only the disobedient need to fear death.The rest can welcome it because it is the door to life everlasting.

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