It seems we’re all looking for “the good life” these days. Our lives and decisions are centered around multitasking and efficiency, comfort and ease, distraction and entertainment. We’ve got our iPhones, Lazy Chairs, and big-screen TVs to help us on our way. Media voices and advertisements spout “wisdom” here too. But are we finding “The Good Life”?
Mark and Lisa McMinn have suggested that dirt and the good life go hand in hand, and their beautifully written book, similarly titled Dirt and the Good Life, poetically details how these two esteemed professors find the simplicity of farming to be a way of life that brings goodness and meaning.
Wise philosophers have often pointed out that people are created with two natures: a base, physical being that must go about the tasks of food, shelter, and clothing; and a higher, spiritual nature that looks for meaning and connection with God. We’re created with both of these aspects of our humanity. Becoming unbalanced toward our physical nature brings a shallowness that leaves the soul longing and leads to behaviors that can be destructive. On the other side, cloister ourselves from the enjoyment of existing bodily as a human being and all that entails—working with our hands, using our senses, interacting with creation—and we starve the physical being from connecting with God and others in the unique way it does. It doesn’t work for long and often leads to spectacular hypocrisy.
The wisdom Mark and Lisa McMinn offer through their writing in this book is not stated through advice or practical tips. Instead, they allow themselves to be examples of people striving to find meaning as they live within the two natures, woven together in the midst of growing food, working with their hands, and celebrating the bounty of their hard work. “Material meets immaterial, and my ensouled body (or is it an embodied soul?) finds the deep joy God created me to know.” As writers, both Mark and Lisa bring their academic minds into processing the experiences of farming, infusing fresh thoughtfulness into their musings. As Mark writes, “The quiet hours of working in the dirt provide time for renewal and reflection on the big matters of living and dying, time and eternity.”
Just as each of the earth’s seasons produce some joy and some melancholy, Mark and Lisa boldly write about the pleasures and hardships they encounter as they work the farm over the course of the growing and harvesting seasons. “Farming is for observant souls,” Mark states, and both his and Lisa’s observations range from beetle sex to cultivating hope. Their discussions about God are both straightforward and mystically reverent, in the same way they talk about the rains that are both life-giving and awe-inspiring.
Throughout their book, Mark and Lisa give snapshots of their lives as a couple and as parents, grandparents, and Friends interacting with the community. They discuss the tender dance of marriage and growing old together, relate the celebrations of the harvest with their family and friends, and attest to the deep beauty of silence and Quaker communal disciplines. They also discuss the tasks and rituals involved with being a CSA, (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, where they grow seasonal produce for families who have subscribed to receiving fresh fruits and vegetables each week during the growing season.
This writing is beautiful, wise, deep, and fresh. Mark and Lisa’s book combines the invaluable pairing of the physical, gritty, satisfying existence of the life of farming with the mindful, tender, and explorative existence of the life of the soul. This type of weaving can only be written out of experience and is incredibly rare. This book is a true gem.
“I’ve stopped calling my teaching job my real job, and now refer to it as my other job,” Lisa says, “I’m growing more convinced that my real job—my real calling—is tending dirt.” And then, “For us, Fern Creek is a place of redemption. It is where we have discovered the abundance of the whole life that awaits the willing soul.”
(Dirt and the Good Life is available for purchase at Barclay Press, including free video interviews with the authors: www.barclaypress.com)