Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday Morning Meditation


“…for so you have ordained it.” Psalm 65:9

More than a century ago, not long after the land here was first broken, the community in which I live soon couldn’t hold all the people who wanted to live here. The edge of the frontier was shifting steadily west, and, after the government successfully swindled the Native people of their land and killed off the bison, the Great Plains were opened for homesteading—west into South Dakota.

So Hollanders who got itchy for the open spaces lit out for the Dakota territories, confident they too could grow crops, raise livestock, and thereby create the good life that was already being lived here, in northwest Iowa.

But it wasn’t as easy as they may have thought. Making a living on land in the Dakotas requires a different set of skills, as they soon discovered, my own great-grandparents among them. A woman once told me how her uncle, just moved to Rosebud Reservation land at the turn of the 20th century, planted corn just as he had in Iowa, watched it grow just as it had in Iowa, then looked on, astounded and horrified, when a dry hot wind blew up from the south and lay all that corn down in just one blazing afternoon, killed the whole crop. The next day, she said, he hitched up his team, filled the wagon with his family, and went back to Iowa.

A geographer friend of mine once told me that what we think of as “the corn belt,” a significant swath of land that spreads west from Ohio, covers most all of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and includes parts of several other states, including the some eastern sections of South Dakota, is really a treasure trove. Few other places on the entire globe feature the distinct physical blessings that “the corn belt” has in spades: ample annual rainfall, a lengthy growing season, rich topsoil, and the kind of temperature extremes—hot summers, cold winters—that are especially advantageous to some grains. It is, the perfect mix—as if it were designed and created by a divine ecological alchemist.

He claims—and I believe him—that the harmonic convergence of all of those immense blessings is the reason why farming works so successfully here. People work hard, and always have. They’re Calvinists, who know that nobody gets rich in coffee shops. But the reason for abundant harvests, he says, are blessings that have less to do with hybrid grains or sweat on the collar than this marvelous confluence of blessings. This spacious breadbasket produces food in abundance because of “God’s ordination.” It’s what he did, not what we do.

Some Iowa farmers have always liked to believe their South Dakota cousins simply don’t work as hard—and that’s why they don’t make as much money. If the fish are biting on the Missouri, they figure Dakota farmers will just bet on another day to get the corn in.

The prairie poem at the end of Psalm 65 is not only beautiful, but instructive in that it ascribes our successes fully to God’s own hand: you’re the one who does it, Lord, David says. You send the rain, you drench the furrows, you crown the year with bounty. You do it all.

None of us—farmers, villagers, suburbanites, or city dwellers—find it easy to ascribe our bounty to anything less than our hard work. But this beautiful little hymn gives all our joy to his goodness.

For he has ordained it—that’s David’s testimony. He’s done it. Not us. He’s the one, the only one.

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