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A Fallow Time Reflection

Posted on January 10, 2024, by Susan Classen CoL

By Susan Classen CoL and JoAnn Gates CoL

A harvested field bordered by woods is left to lie fallow.
A fallow field.
Photo by Susan Classen CoL

Fallow time. Wintering. Call it what you will, only one out of every 10 living in the U.S. call the winter months their favorite. Certainly there are many who truly suffer — mentally, physically, financially — during these months. But unless we live in a warmer climate, or plant ourselves there once the trees go bare, you and I are a part of this same seasonal rhythm that invites all of nature, including our human one, to rest. 

Is it conceivable that we might open, however narrowly, to a relationship with our deeper, perhaps more-hidden self, which might actually need this season for its flourishing? Is it remotely possible that we could learn to abide, if not embrace, this “inside” season?

Allowing land to lie fallow is a farming practice that gives soil time to rest between crops. Underneath the surface of what looks like an empty field, billions of microorganisms are replenishing nutrients in the soil. Take a moment to reflect on the “soil” of your life. What do you notice under the surface?

Going down under, living during a season with more darkness than light, can call for a different form of nourishment. A few weeks ago, we placed a protein patty in each of the two Motherhouse bee hives. Hopefully, this will support the honey bees during the winter as they try to keep the queen — and themselves — warm. I think about some of the ways I nourish my soul during fallow time: drinking hot beverages, reading more, perusing seed catalogs, making hearty soups, sending hand-written notes to loved ones, enjoying Orion’s watchful presence … What nourishment might you anticipate giving yourself as we enter into this fallow time?


In her book, “Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto,” Tricia Hersey looks underneath our economic system to reveal the toxic productivity that is particularly damaging to the descendants of enslaved people upon whose forced labor our current economy was built. She writes, “Our culture … has told you and reinforced the idea that you came into the world to be a machine, to accomplish, to labor, and to do. Nothing can be further from the truth and when you slowly begin to believe and understand your inherent worth, rest becomes possible in many ways.”  

A break-up, a job loss, the death of a loved one, a new physical limitation … these are examples of other significant and sometimes prolonged fallow times in life. The political polarization in the U.S., the ravages of a planet that is warming, the reality of war around the globe and the heart-breaking images we see on our screens… any one of these can shake us, throw us off balance, turn our world upside down. Never is it more important (and never is it more difficult) to replenish ourselves deeply during such lean times. “Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins’, “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend.”)

Psalm 116 is an invitation for fallow time. “Return, oh my soul, to your rest.” Under the surface of whatever expectations tend to keep us rushing from one thing to the next, we can trust that our soul knows the way back home to a place of rest. Perhaps you might like to repeat the Psalm as you take a few slow, deep breaths. Return, oh my soul, to your rest … Return, oh my soul, to your rest.

A red chair with a colorful quilt on top sits centered in the room of a small wood cabin.
A chair in one of the Cedars of Peace cabins.
Photo by Susan Classen CoL

Susan Classen CoL

Susan has been a Loretto Co-member since 1996. She is the director of Cedars of Peace, a retreat center on the grounds of the Loretto Motherhouse. A passion for transformation is the common thread that weaves its way through her varied interests which include gardening, woodworking, retreat leading and involvement in Loretto’s Farm and Land Management Committee. Previously, she lived and worked in Latin America.
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