The Farm House
2 June 2015 | Words from the Heart
One of the things I really like to do, (and rarely ever do) is to amble along a back road in the country somewhere. Perhaps it is part of my own genetic makeup and a throw back to my droving forebears! I never lose my fascinations for the old farm houses that have been abandoned and sit as witness to a life long past. The size of the house gives the clue as to whether it was a prosperous place or somewhere that just struggled along. Sometimes it is only the hearth, the old fireplace that has survived, and I get caught thinking about the people who once gathered at that hearth and told stories and spent the night there as the only warmth against the cold. Perhaps that hearth was in the kitchen and I wonder at all the meals that came out of that fire, the ovens that cooked such perfect bread and light sponges. Sometimes there are dilapidated sheds and broken fences that tell the story of a cattle run or dairy farm or paddocks that were once lush with wheat.
At the centre of all these musings are the people who once have lived there. Surely in most cases it was love that built the original house. If a person is setting up a home, then love is very often the reason. I wonder at the dreams that brought them there, the hopes that kept them going through drought, fire and flood, through good seasons and bad. I wonder at the secret tears that would have been shed, the revelations that were given, the hospitality that perhaps could be counted on under this roof, the Sunday afternoon teas that took place on the wide verandah for folk from miles around. Now all that is left is a broken down place and I wonder what happened that reduced it to this, a shell. What happened to the love that once gave its life, kept its roof painted red, the fences around the homestead intact and white, the swing in the tree always in the company of a child and the home garden neat and flourishing?
Equally sad is the sight of churches left to decay or clearly sold and now living a totally different life, perhaps as a private home or an antique shop or a café or a trendy craft tourist attraction. I wonder at the love that gathered folk for years on end to praise the God who gave them a reason to keep going, who comforted them in words that went with them back to their homes. I think about the walls, which even now still hold the memory of Eucharist celebrated, of marriages solemnized, of tearful funerals and hope restored, of hearts poured out in remorse for transgressions committed and so regretted, then comforted and forgiven. Those walls hold the pictures of people who knew there was more to life than what was in front of them, people who knew their ultimate destiny was always God and God’s ultimate destiny was always them.
Perhaps all that applies to farm houses and churches can equally apply to our lives. Are our lives alive or do we live a life that is really just filling in time until we die? Does love still have the motivating power to make us write that letter, make that call, take that risk, open our hearts, seek forgiveness ? Is the quest for the God within, always new for us or has it grown stale? Do the words of the Scriptures still get between “the marrow and the bone” of our daily grind?
From time to time, we can feel like those now defunct houses and churches. Yet the truth is we are God’s house, we are God’s Church. No matter how we feel, no matter how real the weight of our despondency, we can never be simply a memory of times past, or a hope forgotten, or a garden untended or a broken down lonely swing blowing from a branch, because we belong to God. He is the homestead and the church wherein we have a home.
The way forward always is to ask for the grace to see ourselves as God does, to see ourselves through the smile of God, to see ourselves through the tenderness of God’s gaze, to see ourselves at home on his verandah looking at the willows of our misgivings as they droop into the life-giving river meandering as it does, through the paddocks of our God given dreams. In all this, we come to know ourselves, not as tenants in this precious life, but as owners of all we survey. St. Francis of Assisi knew this and so he prayed often “Lord, give me the grace to see myself as you see me”. Such a prayer is well worth the effort.