Over on Seedlings in Stone, LL Barkat has been talking about Smallness of Scale based on a Wendell Berry essay she has been reading. She challenged us to think about this issue with her, so I decided to give it a try.
First, here’s the starting point from Berry in The Gift of Good Land, where he talks about the mountain farming of Peru.
“For those fields hold their soil on those slopes, first of all, by being little. By being little they protect themselves against erosion, but their smallness also permits attention to be focused accurately and competently on the details.” (p 26)
“The fields have to be the right size; to make them too big would be to destroy them….What I was thinking, then, looking down at the little fields of the Andes, was that the most interesting, crucial, difficult questions of agriculture are questions of propriety. What is the proper size for a farm for one family in a given place? What is the proper size for a field, given a particular slope, climate, soil type, and drainage?” (p.43)
I’ve been talking a lot about small things already, being faithful with the little so we can be entrusted with the big, finding our small place in a big cause, and doing so by finding a small place to start. In all of these ways, we prosper by narrowing the focus.
I started learning these lessons about five years ago when I first was stricken with an unexpected illness that left me paralyzed for several days. I made a miraculous recovery, but over the next three years had three more major hospitalizations, each time temporarily paralyzed. Doctors determined it was immunologial, most likely lupus, and thanks to the grace of God through a very effective drug, I now live a mostly normal life.
Through the process of being in and out of the hospital, going through weeks of physical therapy and greatly reduced physical strength, I learned the value of small. During the first illness when many of my doctors believed I would never walk again, a small wiggle of the toe one morning was a major victory. I came to greatly appreciate just getting out of bed on my own each day, and when I was finally able to go back to work, it was a gift.
The Lord also used this illness to shrink the overall scope of my life. Until that time, I had unending amounts of energy and ambition, with little focus. With the sky as the limit, I couldn’t rest until I was able to fly. After the illness, and to this day, I now have a lot more boundaries. Ironically, too much activity, not enough rest, and too much stress (the hallmarks of my previous life) actually leave me headed in a bad direction physically. I balked at these limits at first. Now I embrace them.
Knowing I can’t do it all, I am more discerning about how I do spend my time. This smallness of scale is helping to refine my life in a way bigness and broadness never could.
What are your experiences of the smallness of scale? How has your life been “expanded” by having narrower boundaries?