In Jewish tradition there is a sabbatical year, Shmita, meaning a renunciation, or “to release.” This letting go includes renouncing the right to work the fields and groves. We read from the Old Testament, “for six years you may sow your field, and […] prune your vineyard, gathering in their produce. But during the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest […] when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. The after growth of your harvest you shall not reap …” (Leviticus 25:3-6)
During Shmita the earth is allowed to set undisturbed for more than a single season; it is fallowed for a durational rest and whatever food comes forth during that year is freely shared.
Fallowing has been used by farmers for centuries as a method of sustainable land management. During this time the land is often planted with nitrogen fixing crops and/or used for pasture. The practice allows the soil to have a period to replenish nutrients and microorganisms that are depleted during successive growing periods.
When a soil is fallowed nutrients often percolate up from deep below, and studies have shown that resting the soil for a year produces a more abundant crop than the yield the year preceding the rest. Fallowing allows the soil to recover its potential, to rejuvenate.
The challenge to lie fallow
In most societies it is often expected that if we are to be of worth, we need to be productive. Even the Bible claims that those who do not work should not eat. Western culture demands we must be purposeful; in our jobs, in moving our family forward, in the quest to learn more, and our responsibilities to evangelize. It is one thing to take a break, a small vacation as such. But to completely stop? Unacceptable.
We are called to rest one day in seven, a hard practice for many of us. But what if, whether by circumstances or by choice, we are not productive for a duration; for more than a week, a month, a year, or longer? Can we accept — even tolerate! — to just be?
To lie fallow is not the stagnation that we fear — growing stale or languishing from lack of advancement — but a time of intentional restfulness to improve and strengthen. As Pope Benedict XVI had written, “… it is good that you exist.” We exist to serve the Lord and, in resting, allow the opportunity for him to reveal to us what that could mean.
Can we allow ourselves to let the Holy Spirit percolate up from our depths?
There are times when our faith, depleted by our business and worldly demands, seems thinned and unsustainable. In whatever fruits may come forward during that rest, whatever graces surface from the exhausted ground of our soul, we are renewed in the waiting.