“Restore us, O God!” a chorus of ancient voices cries in this song of lament. They address their tears to God the Shepherd and in verses following our selection, they compare themselves to a battered vine on an abandoned farm.
This fall, I visited a farm that not only produced food; it also trained pastors in the meaning of restoration. The owner, Jeff Hawkins, is a Lutheran pastor who offers monthly retreats for church leaders. Pastors come to HOPE CSA for a day each month to become better shepherds of human flocks by tending flocks of farm animals.
Jeff’s word for restoration is “holy health.” He believes that Creation is an ideal place to learn about God’s intentions for human communities. On the day I visited with the students participating in Merry Lea’s Sustainability Semester in Residence, we spent time with a flock of chickens and the ducks that were charged with weeding the grapevines.
We also helped out in the tomato patch. The vines had already frozen and were hanging limp and dejected. Our job was to disentangle them from their stakes so that the stakes could be reused and the field could lie fallow for a year.
As we worked, I was struck by how much care the plants needed in order to be fruitful. Even though this year’s vines were dead, they still needed tending, and that care would result in vigorous new vines and juicy tomatoes in another season. The dead vines were depressing to look at, but they were just one part of a larger system that was healthy and brimming with life.