Fallow Time

“In out-of-the-way places of the heart,

Where your thoughts never think to wander,

This beginning has been quietly forming,

Waiting until you were ready to emerge.”

      -John O’Donohue, “For a New Beginning,” from To Bless the Space Between Us


Deep into winter in this northern part of the world, the land is covered in white as I look over the fields on my way to work through the countryside on Sunday mornings. There is a quiet beauty to the undisturbed swath of flatland and curves and risings here and there. Evidence of the wild winds has collected on the edges, drifted snow building its unique architectures which change from storm to storm.


Grey, white and brown are the colors of the country these days. Shades that just waft in and out without lifting the mind. It’s all quiet and unobtrusive. Unless the sun happens to pop out to set the whole show into a sparkling wondrous kaleidoscope of brilliance. Then the heart skips a beat and can’t help but utter its thanks.


It’s fallow time, and nothing is growing under the moist earth for now, under the deep white snows. The soil is resting, renewing, lying quietly until the urge approaches it to come to life again. Nutrients from last year’s crop will have given it a rich beginning when that urge awakens life once more. The pulse of its life will quicken, a guarantee that life goes on in its seasons as it always has. Of this we can be sure. Things will grow again.


It’s not much of a stretch to say that all living things have fallow times. Including us. We have a profound and demanding need for them. No one is excluded. And many of us need more fallow times than others. We need that time of rest – of cutting back – of regeneration – of letting go – of dreaming – of waiting – of longing – of preparing.


I’m not just talking about the day-to-day, week-to-week demands of balancing busyness with quiet time. I mean that we find ourselves in the midst of long, unbalanced periods that just do not seem to lend themselves to easy discovery or resolution. Something is missing.


I have grudgingly learned to expect and to respect these in-between times. Times when it looked as though nothing of note was happening. Weeks or months – or even years – when I appeared to just be drifting. To nowhere.


And I was restless in the drifting – endlessly restless. I had no place to settle. And my soul needed a place to settle. To stay. At least for a while. More than a day or two…for a good long while. 


Along the way, it finally became clear: these aimless, restless times were the times when the Spirit  life dwelt silently – and richly – until I could learn to trust it. And give myself over to it. To hand over the restlessness so I could find the rest that my spirit was longing for.


And interestingly,

restlessness has been its fuel


Fallow time is spirit time. It is both beginning and ending time. And Spirit lives in the space between the two, gently waiting to transform us into the new and wondrous thing that we’re meant to become. It is the spiritual part of us that longs for the very connection that only Spirit can knit together.


Fallow time lacks clarity. The way is unclear here. There are few familiar landmarks. All is confusion, and we tend to hate confusion. We nervously pace the floor, knowing something is not right but not knowing what. We just know that we are disconnected from something that gives our souls rest. And we don’t know how to go about reconnecting because we’ve never been here before, at least not in the same way. What worked in the past doesn’t work now. We may have a brilliant mind, ready to tackle anything, but even our mind can’t take us where we need to go.


The way is unclear, and yet there are flashes of light that rend the darkness; hints of what Spirit might show us. They are incomplete in themselves, but they suggest a direction – if we have the courage to follow it.


Fallow time is a time for courage. A different kind of courage perhaps. John O’Donohue suggests just that – a disturbing kind of courage:

“May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire

That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.”

(From “For a New Beginning,” To Bless the Space Between Us)


Fallow time requires us to take a chance. The chance of moving beyond the familiar connections that have nurtured us and led us to this one point, this soil of restlessness that is waiting for the season to change, as it must.


There is no way that we can hasten the time that it will take. The time may seem endless, but it is always a time of great activity, beneath the heavy snows. We are being prepared for new birth. New life. Gestation will take as long as it needs, until the time is exactly right.


Even in the coldest days of the heart, the whisper of Spirit has been at work. Unheard yet unbowed, anticipated but not yet seen, it has been planting just the seeds that our soul needed to awaken it.


Once we hear that first whisper, a new beginning becomes inevitable as long as we have the courage to keep coming back to it.


Within the apparent silence, it has been planting just the right seeds,

the seeds of our own beautiful and incomplete design.


Fallow time eventually comes to an end. The time comes when our restlessness and our resting come together and a new place, a new time break the surface and look into the light. Just the right person, just the right timing, just the right opportunity, just the right day arrives, and we discover that all the waiting was for a reason: we’ve been transformed, our spirit has been made new and life is magic again. And the future that has just been waiting for us has arrived!


As I was researching the agricultural roots of fallow time, I came upon this remark by a farmer who was putting in his two cents worth on a site discussing the pros and cons of leaving a field fully fallow, with no additives, no new crop, just letting it be.


J. L. said, “I love planting into fields that have been fallow for some time. Seems like the best growing I ever do is the first and second years that I use a field after it has been fallow for a while.”


Life goes on in its seasons as it always has. Of this we can be sure. Things will grow again – including us.


Do not allow your confusion to squander

This call which is loosening

Your roots in false ground,

That you might come free

From all you have outgrown.”

-John O’Donohue, “For the Interim,” from To Bless the Space Between Us