It's good to have a garden if you are an impatient person like me. Record cold and snow kept the cabbages from maturing in early winter, as they sometimes do in the South. But just wait, they said, growing quickly as the snow receded in March, lush and verdant by May. That is, until the loopers and the cutworms came to gnaw-turning an anticipated summer feast of cole slaw into more likely a fast.
Every year the garden reminds me of something different about life under the sun. This year-with graduations in my family bookending the month of May and what feels like our busiest spring on record-the garden is a steady pacesetter, a visual metronome marking out the season in a rhythm that's undeniable, no matter my hurry or the blur of events around me. Spinach now, it chimes; lettuce later. I want something from the genus brassica but instead have an abundance of parsley and chives. Will I enjoy a feast of herb-packed soufflés or fold my arms and tap my foot beside the cabbage patch?
In the great race to learn how to pace, have you noticed that American culture has become a pell-mell quest to feast all the time? That we have so much of everything we don't have time to enjoy anything? That we've lost our equilibrium in the art of abounding and abasing? That we forgot doing without goes along with having plenty?
Our cars with their cupholders, face mirrors, and USB jacks are a testimony to our belief in having and doing all, all the time. Amid the darkened auditorium rows at my son's graduation were scattered bricks of light as family and friends paused to check mail or text from their smartphones. We're working the next deal or planning another event even in the midst of one. The 12-hour workday has to have a two-hour workout wedged into it-sure, we do vacation but we want a vacation body to go with it. Bible study before school? Great. Leaves time for sports and music after.
Some of us can do it all, for awhile, but I come to the end of this season limp, drained of my capacity for joy at just the moment when there is most to enjoy. What I end up with in a time of perpetual feasting feels more like a persistent fast. I gnaw at a vast cluster of bones but miss the choicest pieces of marrow.
The trend is national, and not necessarily the same as plain materialism or capitalism run amok. It's more subtle but no less pernicious: a craving in whatever station we find ourselves to outrun and outlast nature and nature's God.
In finance it may come across as the "Before Asia Opens" phenomenon, what analyst (and sometime WORLD contributor) David Bahnsen recently described as "three ugly words." Policymakers made deals regarding JP Morgan and Bear Stearns, consolidated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, formulated TARP, tried to dump Lehman on Barclays, and most recently fashioned a rescue for Greece-all over the weekend racing a deadline for the Asian markets to open, exposing disaster. "What it universally means is we have already done something so bad, so severe, and so reckless, that we now have a self-appointed deadline to desperately band-aid it," notes Bahnsen. Or one might say, we forgot to fast.
Here's the good news to the believer: God gives us leave to enjoy both feasting and fasting. The writer of Proverbs 30 declares, "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."
He also ordains times of true fasting that we might humble ourselves (Ezra 8:21), see our weakness (Psalm 109:24), suffer along with others (Psalm 35:13) and that, among other benefits, we might have courage to overcome sin and corruption (Nehemiah 1). In other words, we should not fear to do without! In those times God is cultivating a better feast.
I don't know who Agur son of Jakeh was, but as the writer of Proverbs 30 he begins this way: "I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man." I too am weary of the feast, fearful of the fast, too stupid usually to know what I need when; but longing for both if they will but come from the hand of God.
Email Mindy Belz