Over the summer I had the wonderful privilege of working on a farm every day. My fiancé Jeremy manages a beautiful little farm just outside of Eugene, Oregon, where he grows all kinds of organic produce. After one year of seminary, it was a welcome change to engage in physical labor, to say the least. Above all it was refreshing to be in my home state, to work alongside my fiancé, and to be part of a different rhythm as the structure of seminary life made way for the demands of the growing season.
Since I have experience with farming, people often comment to me about how beautiful and peaceful it is, that farming must be God's work, that I must have so many spiritual metaphors to draw from the experience of farming. In many respects, they are right. Farmers get to cultivate land and plants, watch things grow, and spend constant time out of doors. Very few experiences have given me the sense of wonder at creation as much as watching a miniscule seed grow into a vegetable, both beautiful and nourishing. It is satisfying to feed ourselves and others with the literal fruit of our labors. There is so much to learn from this kind of work!
Yet I find myself wary of "spiritual metaphors," if only because it can be a great temptation to idealize farming. There certainly are metaphors to be had, and Christ Himself often employed images from agriculture in His teachings (and let me tell you, it is extremely hard to spend endless days pruning unruly tomatoes and not meditate upon John 15, where Christ says we must be pruned to be fruitful). It is, however, easy to underestimate the sheer amount of work involved in farming. Though beautiful, it is a very hard life, not just a pleasant day job (as someone quipped to me recently, "5 to 9 is not 9 to 5!"). Probably the one spiritual equivalent which has stood out to me is this: it is a heck of a lot of hard work. And you cannot stop. For a farm to work, you must tend it faithfully and constantly, and the fruit is rarely immediate. Sometimes a whole crop just fails. Disappointment and weariness can tempt you to throw in the spade, especially when you realize how little control you really have. I find prayer to be very similar. To pray and draw close to God is a constant, not a sometime, action; neither happens by itself, and "results" are not always apparent.
But it is rarely worth it to quit, in farming and certainly when it comes spiritual effort. Both farming and seminary have taught me this. The past year as a seminarian and a farmer, rich with blessings and struggles, has shown me the value of difficult work and persistence. Wherever I am or whatever I am doing—Oregon, New York, farm, or seminary—can be the means of deepening my trust in God and my courage to face life's difficulties.
Ashli Moore is in her second and final year of the Master of Arts program at St. Vladimir's Seminary. She is currently working on a thesis project, which is a model for an Orthodox Christian School that she hopes to implement in her home parish in Eugene, Oregon (pronounced "Orygun"). In her other life, however, she works on Excelsior Farm owned by her fiancé Jeremy, to whom she is getting married in July. A native of Portland (you may get Portlandia references out of your system at this time), Ashli misses many elements about the Northwest, especially its many tea houses, excellent second–hand clothing stores, and of course, the rain.