This week a dear friend left town, returning to school in the States. Last week, another close friend left Calgary to enter ministry in Vancouver. When these beloved gems of my life leave, it is like I am experiencing their death in miniature, for although their departures are not permanent, their loss is still felt. A funeral dirge, however dim, is still heard.
These partings can spark longing. Both friends left to pursue things that I also yearn for, school and West Coast culture. But my season for such things has not yet arrived, so I press on, shaking off any burdens of attachment, relieved to be allowed to focus on the pilgrimage. My hand is to my staff and, like Frodo, I move forward on my quest.
But almost as these words leave my mind, I pause to reconsider the analogy. “Hand to the staff” is not the phrase from scripture. “Hand to the plough” is. “I will follow you, Lord” said the man in Luke 9, “but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” It was then that Jesus said “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I see that my imagery need realigning. A plough is different than a staff.
A plough does not ignore the barren ground, but revitalizes it, digging deep into the earth. The ploughman’s hands bare their tool with blisters, skin always broken and always healing. He is not content to pass by hardship, but turns and circles back, digging up the rocks and boulders, grappling, wrestling with the land given him.
And so there is work before me. Sweat will be required and weariness will be worn like a honoured weapon. But the ground needs breaking before it can be sown. The land is not mine, yet here I will dwell, readying it for the farmer’s seed and praying for harvest rain.