If anyone lives in a place but does not harvest the crops there, the place will drive that person out for not having done the work of that place.
This is another saying of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, those people of the early church who bravely went out into the wilderness to wrestle with what it means to be human beings in relationship with God. It is also an excellent antidote to the treacle inherent in the variations on “Bloom where you are planted” which are so popular these days.
We use the “bloom” saying as a way to tell people who are uncomfortable where they are that they just need to hang on. But the focus of the saying is on us, on simply ignoring what chafes us about a place and focusing ourselves on being super cool as who we are. To a point that is good advice because we can focus on what annoys us outside in order to ignore what is gnawing at our hearts from within.
At the same time, the bloom statement assumes an agnosticism of place which is just a little too chirpily certain that we can do whatever we want because our place doesn’t matter. This is part of the corrosion of reality brought on by the very placelessness so amazingly captured in the prologue of Robert Capon‘s An Offering of Uncles. In it he tells the parable of the Man on the Thruway an anonymous everyman who is worn away by the anonymous, infinitely replaceable, environment around him. Because there is no particularity in his life, no place in which to root, he is gradually worn away into an empty suit and ‘buried’ in that same anonymous emptiness.
In contrast to this placelessness, the fathers and mothers made a point of the very There-ness of our place. They assumed that each place had its own particular work to do, its own crops to harvest. In some places in the country we harvest corn, others do soy or wheat or even sugar beet. In each place then there are plants that grow well and others which are simply not suited to the soil and climate. While we can grow cotton in the desert, it is a spectacularly thirsty crop that strains the water of the land. While wheat can grow south of the Mason-Dixon, there’s a wheat rust that tends to kill it before harvest. Trying to force the ground to grow what it cannot is as foolish as refusing to plant what actually will grow.
Ultimately, each place, each life, each heart, has a crop, a fruit that it can grow well. To have this heart, this life; to live in this place means that we have a fruit to bear and a crop to seek. Far from being a blithe, place ignoring command to “bloom where you are planted,” this is a declaration that our best life is found in seeking the crops of this place and bring them fruition.
Thus far, it’s a good starting place for our lives “your place, the place you are in, has a crop to grow so seek it out and grow it.” What do we do next?
First rejoice that we have the power to be part of raising the “crops of this place.” Be glad that the melody of our life has a purpose and is itself a gift. Then look for the crops of the place, the things that are unique to this place and uniquely part of what you can bring forward from this place. Then begin working to bring those crops to harvest.