Simplicity in a potter’s field
By. Ann Karasinski, Former Summer Servant, Grand Rapids MI
The sun was rising, burning the fog off the mountain. It was quiet as I sat at the long table in the farmhouse and said my prayers. With no volunteer group, the caretakers and summer servants were following a different routine, tending to personal retreat and rejuvenation. I was new among them, an oddity as a summer servant. Older. Nearing the end of a career instead of its beginning. Recently widowed and grieving deeply after the death of my husband Gary.
In the afternoon, Blue, the farm’s Heeler, took me on a walk around the woodland trail, and we ended up at the small cemetery in the back pasture. There was the dry buzz of grasshoppers and the chalky smell of sudden warmth. Small white-washed stones marked the graves, but no names were visible. Carefully, I walked around the edges, mindful of the men buried within who otherwise would have ended in a potter’s field. The loneliness of their histories melted into mine, calling to mind the things we share on our brief earthly journey and our return to dust.
On my way back to the farmhouse, I walked past the gardens, overgrown and gone to seed. In the coming weeks, I would help weed and prepare the beds for new growth, working side by side with young volunteers, scattering carrot and parsnip seeds, harvesting asparagus, digging out the deep taproots of the stubborn burdock.
Simplicity is what attracted me to Bethlehem Farm and a hope in the peace it might offer. From the time of Gary’s diagnosis and lasting months past his death, I found myself in the Garden of Gethsemane. Waiting. Dreading. Resisting. I’d heard the homily about the grain of wheat falling and dying, but still, I refused to let go. Ignoring Jesus’s model, my long-held patterns suggested I could think or feel or work my way out.
As the rhythm of the farm came to be part of me, I couldn’t help but feel things moving inside, changing. The times of connection with community. The times I wanted to go home, to run away. The striving for something greater than the sign of Jonah. The surrender to whatever grace had led me. More than once, I thought of telling Gary about my journey, forgetting that he wasn’t at home waiting. More than once, I believed I recognized his laugh as I bent over the garden bed, walked around the trail, revisited the cemetery.
It has been nearly four years since I left the farm, and still, I carry the lessons of simplicity. I’ve come to notice a singular focus on appreciating what every moment is offering. A way of simplifying my life to its deeper meaning. A way to die and come back to life. To borrow from Henri Nouwen, it is the experience of entering “into the desert of loneliness” so that it may be transformed “into a garden of solitude.”
Now, I visit Gary’s grave, simply marked with a smooth black stone and his engraved name. It is sacred ground, and as I kneel, I listen for his laugh and for the whisper of God as the wind runs through the trees.