In April 2006, as part of the Foundation course in Christian Spirituality, a week of guided prayer was arranged. We met as a group at Portsmouth on Sunday afternoon, and would meet up again one week later. Each weekday in between, the participants, about 20-30 of us, would meet individually with an “accompanier”, for half an hour per day. In my case this involved travelling some 24 miles each way, one of the longest possible journeys on the Isle of Wight.
I appreciated the amount of time Mary was committing to me during her busy schedule, and though this was my first experience of this type of “retreat”, I decided, as I often do, that, “In for a penny, in for a pound”. I had no desire to waste either Mary's time or my God-given opportunity, so I would be as open and honest as I possibly could.
The first Sunday introduction had encouraged us to be open to God communicating to us in any way He might choose, and this, along with the knowledge that He would do so in a different way with each participant was exciting. Travelling on Monday morning, I saw a ploughed field, the furrows of which were catching the early morning sun. As I spoke to Mary later, I told her that I had been very moved by this sight, even bordering on tears, and felt that this had touched me at some deep level. I also recalled a dream from the night before, which seemed to highlight some of my fears about the week ahead.
As the days progressed, I worked through various exercises, Bible passages and prayers that Mary had selected from material given to her. I should add that there was also a good deal of on-going support available particularly in prayer. Over the next few days, we explored various areas of my life, some of which were particularly painful. We also looked at possible future ministry, and that these painful experiences can often be used to help others. The concept of a “Wounded Healer” was specially relevant. I found the process very tiring as many retreats are residential with meals provided and no travelling involved.
By Thursday, I was considering the choosing of an object which we had been asked to take to our final session back at Portsmouth on Sunday afternoon. On a table I spotted a horse brass, one of the items I had chosen when Russell's family home was being sold. His family had sold agricultural machinery, and my father had ploughed with horses in Devon. I decided that this brass of a ploughman and a pair of horses would in some way symbolise my week of prayer, and I shared this with my husband. He then found a piece from, “The finishing touch”, a book of daily readings by Charles Swindoll, himself quoting A.W.Tozer's Path to Power:-
“There are two kinds of ground: fallow ground, and ground that has been broken up by the plough.. the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plough.. the field has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken, but its rewards come hard upon its labours. The seeds shoot up into the daylight..Nature's wonders follow the plough.
He then proceeds to speak of two kinds of lives, the safe yet fallow life, and the adventurous ploughed life that yields fruit through pain. I was so encouraged by this passage, and glad that my husband had been able to find it at that moment.
On Friday, I stopped en-route at a Christian Healing Centre, and popped in to see some friends. I wanted to share with them something of what I believed God was saying to me that week. As I entered the office, Colin was sitting at his desk reading a magazine he had received that morning. We were amazed at God's timing, as the publication in his hand was entitled “The Plough”! Inside there was also a quotation from “The Everlasting Mercy”, John Masefield's beautiful poem, where he likens Christ to the ploughman:-
.. I kneeled there in the muddy fallow
I knew that Christ was there with Callow
That Christ was standing there with me,
That Christ had taught me what to be,
That I should plough, and as I ploughed
My Saviour Christ would sing aloud
And as I drove the clods apart
Christ would be ploughing in my heart
As the weeks have passed, I have taken great delight in watching the crops grow in the previously ploughed fields, right though to the Harvest which has just taken place. It is sometimes a painful process to admit the Divine Ploughman into the fields of our lives, but without it there is no growth and no harvest. So when given the opportunity, be brave and let God turn over the soil of our lives, breaking up and breaking down, in preparation for sowing and eventual reaping.
Eighteen months later I expressed these events in the following poem:
How could I have known
That when I opened the creaking gate
Of the field of my life
And invited you in
To do the necessary work
That your activity would be so painful
And yet ultimately
Bring about a harvest?
Setting your plough
To dig down deep
To turn over
And break up
Almost touching the deep bedrock
Of my soul
Revealing me in all my created
Leaving me exposed
Rich pickings for hungry gulls
Whilst all that I had previously
Is torn from its root
And is re-interred
In the soil
Of my life
Now I lie open and naked
As my neat furrows are
Emptied of all former life
Then one day
The returning sun of your love
O'er lengthening days
Begins my re-awakening
Precious seed sown
In prepared ground
And the Autumn pain
Oh Anne... this is wonderful... I remember this poem, and it was rich when I first read it, but now, with the history share, I see that your poem is ordained and anointed. Thank you for sharing your journey. May your roots continue to go down deep into God's word and bless us with the fruit of your growth and willingness to be 'turned over'.