Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country
Before the breathin’ air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night-time
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone and take back somethin’ worth rememberin’
Whenever I feel them closing in on me
Or need a bit of room to move
When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
Out in the country
—”Out in the Country” by Three Dog Night (lyrics by Paul Williams)
Rev-Ed over at Attention Span wrote a piece that brought tears to my eyes. That doesn’t happen too often, but as I reflect on what he says in “God Speaks in the Country” all I can say to that post is “Yes and amen!”
It will be five years this July for us in our country home. We’ve adapted to a slower pace (though it’s not that significantly slower anymore), grown our own food, put in an orchard, and dreamed big dreams about growing herbs and wine grapes using permaculture methods. Call me converted, but I agree with the new agrarians who believe that our divorce from the land has led to spiritual impoverishment. Or as Neil Peart of Rush once penned:
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown
Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone
—”Subdivisions” by Rush
Sadly, the country is evaporating, the sprawling “mass production zone” creeping in on us faster than we would have hoped. Field after field within ten miles of our home sports a “For Sale” sign. Last week we found out they’ll be putting in a hospital about three miles west of us. Just more lights to obliterate our starry sky. The previous hospital we used is only twenty minutes away, twelve if you speed to it, but someone decided we needed something even closer despite the fact that ten miles east of our home another medical facility is going in. The handwriting’s on the wall. Somewhere a strip mall is being blueprinted by people who never saw a Painted Lady alight on the pale blue chicory.
I look up in the night sky and every year it’s a shade lighter. The rim of the western sky glows continually now, drowning out the light of the celestial spheres, the stars obscured by wasted parking lot light tossed carelessly upward. I look at the Orion telescope catalogs we get and I wonder if I’ll ever have enough money to buy that telescope before the creeping suburbs make it out our way and render our sky the same blank slate I see in the city.
What annihilates the meadows that once teemed with butterflies and wildflowers? The aforementioned strip mall—upscale, of course, because we all know that country people like to shop at Saks. But then we realize it’s not really for the country people, it’s for those fleeing the rotting cities relegated to urban blight and violence, another gunned-down black youth a signpost leading out of town for whites looking to put some distance between themselves and the senseless hate. Meanwhile, the bright suburb of 1970 has passed into its decrepitude and its residents are no longer “our kind of people.” So some flee to the next plot of ex-farmland and create another suburban hell that thirty years from now will be in its own doddering years.
We bought an existing house, so we didn’t add to the problem. Our deed said that our property was first surveyed in 1763. Pioneering men stood at the tops of the rolling hills and scried out a plot of land that would one day hold our 13.2 acres. Almost 250 years later and the feeling in the heart of those men is the same one that captured us. To get back to the soil and coax from it the fruits of the earth. The joy of the harvest. The rich bounty of God’s provision. The connection to the life He breathed into Creation.
We’ve lost our sense of wonder in the Church. We’ve packed the Lord and His glorious Creation away in one of Bloomingdale’s Little Brown Bags and let our imaginations be filled with the perishing for no other reason than because we can. Isn’t it easier that way?
As for me and my house, we want to serve the Lord by never forgetting that the trees speak, the stars proclaim, and the rocks, rivers, and rills shout. I hear their music and never want to endure the day where my ears strain to hear their song because they are long gone. Yet too many Christians believe that their chorus has nothing to teach them. And that is one reason why we are so far from where we should be.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
—Psalms 8:1-9 ESV
Dominion does not equal license, no matter what we think. If we pave paradise and put up a parking lot, what sense will our own hymnody make to a future generation?
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.
—”This Is My Father’s World” by Maltbie Babcock
Or, as Rev-Ed points out, how will “How Great Thou Art” survive should most people never wander a forest glade?
When we lose the country, we lose so very much. It’s where I want to be because I feel like I’m closer to God out in the forest, out in the meadow, than in any church building.
Some Christians look at me and laugh because they know it will all burn some day. But when I stand in Glory, I’ll have the confidence to say to the Lord, “Jesus, I heard the trees sing your name and I joined in their song.”