Cultivating Community, Cultivating Life

“[T]here were times, . . . mainly during the . . . harvest, when we would all be together. The men would go early to have the benefit of the cool of the morning. The women would finish their housework and then gather, sometimes bringing dishes already cooked, to lay on a big feed at dinnertime; and then after the dishes were done, they would go out to help in the field or the barn for the rest of the day. . . . This was our membership.” (Hannah Coulter 92)

Through most of America’s history, people grew up in small towns. They knew each other and helped each other. Most people were part of a community.

Modern people have accused these forebears of sexual division, relegating women to the kitchen. But women worked in the fields too. Men and women grew food and other crops.

Often the division of labor meant he worked harder than she did growing the food. And she worked harder than he did to bring to put it on the table. Children grew up learning a good measure of hard work.

It wasn’t about who did what work. It was about making sure the work got done.  Everyone had a part to play, a contribution to make, a purpose to serve.

People worked hard, some just to survive–others, to thrive. They grew old, perhaps at a faster rate than we do. They were tired. But they were not lonely.

Today, loneliness is an American epidemic. We might expect that among the elderly–especially those who live alone–but that isn’t the case. In fact, older people have done the best job of keeping themselves from being isolated.

The loneliest among us are the young.

The situation was bad before COVID. It’s worse now.

The problem is bigger than social isolation. Loneliness is a health problem–as harmful as smoking–making some more prone to heart disease. Loneliness is costly in many ways.

And social loss happens in more than dollars. Lonely people are more prone to substance abuse. Loneliness has become a social crisis.

Author of Hannah CoulterWendell Berry sums up our problem this way: “We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.”

An exodus back to the farming life doesn’t seem reasonable. Much of the available farmland has been consolidated or subdivided. But there are things we can do.

Many of these things came more easily to farm folks. Working together, eating together.

We can do those things too. But we have to be more intentional than they had to be.

We can grow some of our own food. Some of us already grow tomatoes–even in pots–even in apartments. What better way to show the young that food doesn’t originate in a store?

What better way to explain the concept of cultivation?

We cultivate plants. We cultivate purpose. We cultivate our souls.

When we as a society left the farm for the town or the suburbs, we thought we were moving to a better place, an easier life. Ease has shown itself to be a false promise for peace in our hearts.

With purpose, we find that peace. And that is something we can pass along.

“It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18

Photo Credit: Pexels

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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9 Replies to “Cultivating Community, Cultivating Life”

  1. You’re right, Nancy, working together and eating together does sound like the perfect way to fight loneliness and connect with neighbors, coworkers, and/or acquaintances. A person could provide the ingredients for a simple meal (or have everyone bring their assigned share). Pasta, a big salad, and crusty bread would be one menu-example. Everyone could pitch in to help prepare, and then eat together. By the end of the evening, friendships will likely be forming. Many of us are just shy about issuing an invitation to people we don’t know well. We need to get over it!

    1. So true today, Nancy. We haven’t been good about hospitality since Rob and Laura Petrie graced our black and white television screens. Thanks and God bless!

    2. Nancy, our home group from church does that every couple of months along with our regular meeting, and it’s wonderful. The youngest member of the group is 19, and the oldest is … well she won’t say. (“Age is just a number, and mine’s unlisted.” 😉 ) We’re like family. <3

  2. I agree, Nancy. Ironically, there is an epidemic of loneliness, in spite of there being more ways than ever to “connect.” Last night I got a text from a “wrong number,” a young lady who had changed phones and lost her contacts. (I guess people don’t memorize one another’s phone numbers anymore.) I told her I would pray that her friends would call her. She commented that I seemed so nice, sent me a picture of herself, and told me her name. When she asked how old I was, I sent her a photo of me in a firefighter’s hat with the fire extinguisher, ready to blow out the candles on my last birthday cake. I thought once this young person found out I was 70, that would be the end of the conversation, but she went on talking to me, calling me “mom,” and telling me about herself and her family, who live on the other side of the world. (She lives alone in New York.) I pictured this beautiful young lady in her apartment with no friends … very sad. I don’t believe what happened last night was an accident, more like a divine appointment. She is still sending me messages today. She’s going to read one of my books (or more) and we’re going to talk about them. 🙂

    1. I love God’s divine appointments. Think of the void you could be filling in her life! Thank you for sharing about your church and this encounter. God bless and lead.

  3. Nancy, I love this insightful line: “Ease has shown itself to be a false promise for peace in our hearts.” Work seems less like toil when you have purpose and community as you do it. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

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