In Atina Diffley’s marvelous memoir of organic farming Turn here, Sweet Corn, her husband Martin relays early on in their relationship that he does not consider himself a “blood farmer,” even though his family has been farming the same land on the outskirts of St. Paul for generations. It’s a line that does not initially ring true when Atina describes the grueling daily work of cultivating and selling organic vegetables on the last real farm in Eagan, Minnesota.
But after chapter upon chapter of eighteen-hour days, hailstorms and the continual war against weeds, Atina describes how annually, at the end of the grueling harvest season, the two of them would “quit.” “I hereby quit farming,” they’d say to one another, and proceed to drop all conversation about the farm, yields, or plans for next year. For two weeks they would play music, read, take time with friends and generally act as if their home was not also a farm.
I’m about to embark on about a month of “quitting” pastoring, and doing so at a time of year when the pastoral vocation usually consumes every bit of free space in one’s home and mind. For the first time since my son was born, I have the opportunity to complete a Christmas season as a person in the pews, going home after one service is over and not having to return for another. We might even (<gasp>) go skiing some Sunday.
I know I need this respite in order to grieve the end of one call and be ready to start another, but I also wonder whether it might just help me remember that my first vocation is to be a baptized child of God. Imagine that – not first a pastor, or even first a mother and master-of-holiday-ceremonies at home – but first and foremost a child of God, who gets to receive the season rather than manage it.
When the Diffleys complete their moratorium on talking about farming, they return to the conversation intentionally – asking whether the daily life of farming still succeeds in helping them live out the values of stewardship and community that they hold most dear. It’s a giveaway on the book jacket that at some point the actual management of the Gardens of Eagan will be handed over to others, but to read the memoir is to recognize that passions can be lived out in a variety of ways, and sometimes the most passionate people are the ones who most need these times of stepping away from the work that consumes them.
I’ve often wondered whether a ritual of quitting might be helpful to pastors in the middle of a call rather than only at the end, or on a sabbatical? What would it mean, as we head out on our moments of vacation, to actually declare “I hereby quit pastoring?” Might we find moments – even small ones – to say “I’m going to just be a baptized child of God right now, and figure out later whether the call to Word and Sacrament is the best way for me to live out my baptism.” ?
To some people, such a ritual might sound like an abandonment of call, a dangerous foray into unbelief, denying the divine pull of God on our lives. But the Diffleys’ story hints that such a ritual might actually be something which would preserve call rather than destroy it.
So, for today, I am just a baptized child of God. That’s enough.