“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.” -Jeremiah 17:9-10
Day 1: The Sun Rises on Garnier: Across a landscape, broken only by the stonework of ancient hands, they work in the coolness of the morning hour. Down the lower reaches of the valley toward Torre Pellice, the sun has not yet risen above the shoulder of yonder mountain. Wildflowers speckle the roadsides, their colors a delicate compliment of their domesticated cousins bountifully arrayed in gardens lining the narrow roadsides, each carefully placed in the precious soil of which there is so little. In the shadowed hour, men work carrying irrigation equipment, placing them where the previous circle of showers has missed. Here the crisp pre-dawn air, one can see their breath. The hayfields they grow have already had their first cutting. These are not expansive pastures as we know them in the U.S.; rather, they are smaller plots, divided up so that once the hay is cut, they become natural intensive grazing lands; everything having a purpose in time. In these Alpine valleys, the growing season is short, so every minute of every day is taken with consideration of the long winter that lay ahead.
The men move quickly, their bodies lean from years of difficult manual labor. Neither of the two I watch are young; one appears to be in his late thirties while the other is at least in his early sixties. They do not seem to tire as they move from one field to the next at a pace that would belie a younger man. In these narrow passages, with sharp precipices falling away below, there isn’t room for mechanized machinery from whence more can be done with less. Here, as in times dating back to antiquity, the work must be done with the toil of one’s back and the sweat of their brow.
From my vantage point, sitting on one of the low rock walls, they see me and smile, waving only briefly before pressing on to the next field. Pencil and paper in hand, my eyes try to convey what my hands cannot feel. Their energy seems to buoy up my own. The expected jet lag seems non existent. My hand races to draw the quickly changing scene. Part of me wants to don my old farm clothes and jump into the fray, yet, there is a realization that cannot be dismissed; they would find my strength and stamina far below what they take for granted. My help may be appreciated but would only slow them down. They have a method to their labor, something which more than a classroom can afford, theirs is a tradition handed down from one generation to the next; a multitude of lifetimes of lessons learned.
The irony of it all.
They willingly devote their lives to living off the land, knowing every nuance necessary to eke out the meager existence from this demanding countryside. In their labors, they take nothing for granted, for years of struggle and toil have taught them well. Yet, in their labor, the body, soul, and spirit are sometimes neglected for the sake of striving to make the reality of life work.
How blessed is the man that understands both; the ability to take nothing for granted, but to worship and fulfill God’s commandment as much as he toils upon the land from whence all creation was given; the internment of time. We reap what we sow. Yet, one can become so consumed with living in faith that he fails to tend to the soil upon which all life is sustained; it is a precarious balance that is not easily maintained. As it says in the Bible, “It rains on the just, and the unjust…”.
Many times, we wish it would just rain.
In our faith, we can be lean and agile in what we do. We can remain close to the Word, living out our lives in Christ-like manner. Striving to be a light to those around us, and in our daily walk alone, we can become a true representation of what it is to be a Christian. Yet, some find this life of daily devotion and devote worship far too difficult. Some even remark it is unrealistic to be so “religious.’ To these naysayers, they must see the results of mankind’s slow erosion of the truth. Around them churches seek to become the center of entertainment, filling the void each day with something, anything, just to get folks in the door. The cumbersome trappings of man’s desires only slow us down. When there aren’t enough reasons to hold a party, they invent meaningful tributes to bygone saints. Over time, well-meaning memorials become tiresome traditions. They weigh our souls and burden the truth with details that are without biblical basis. These become the distractions that often lead many into a world of despair and hopelessness. As Jesus warned, we are saved by Grace, not by the law.
The stone wall upon which I sit, built decades or maybe even centuries before, a testament to the labor of those gone on before. There are no names to remind us of their creator, only the stories passed down from one generation to the next. A legacy can only by as such, if the subsequent generations to come know of it’s history.
When all else falls away in life, when our bodies come to that final resting spot, it is then that those left behind finally take the time to reflect and take note of all that has transpired. The breath of life has left the one they loved, their spirit is gone. All that remains is the legacy of who they were. Those that survive are left wondering what was it all for? What had they done with a life in which they served only one master; themselves? There is nothing left to advance the hope of an eternal life for those that have passed. Yet, when the one that has gone served a higher calling, but still worked the land with regard to being the caretaker for God’s creation, it is then we realize that they had served the real Master. Their final journey not complete, for one day, they too will reach the right hand of God the Father, and then, when the trumpet sounds, they will have all eternity in which to take a respite of their previous life’s toil. When we see a culmination of a life well-served and a life well-lived, we can rejoice in seeing what it is to be one with Christ. In the knowing, there is a peace returned to our soul.
A cool breezed passes before my countenance as I return to the present. The sprinklers pulsate in a syncopation while in the distance, the roar of the torrent can be heard. It’s a constant reminder of the abundance of refreshing, life-giving fluid that is necessary to sustain everything that lives. There is the feeling of an energy it exudes, just by the very sound of its distant, gentle white noise. An occasional songbird breaks the trance. Above the dark nearby hillsides, the glow of the sunrise begins to brighten the upper reaches of the still snow-covered peaks of the mountain tops. Above their majestic summits, the blue skies show no trace of clouds.
We know not what lies ahead. Nearby the rooster crows as the shadows slowly slip away. God’s creation stands before us and the day is young. What lies beyond the next bend in the road only time will tell.
A beautiful day awaits.
Thanks be to God.