Living Water

There’s a marshy piece of land behind our little red house that is overgrown with tall grass, burdocks and goldenrod. On occasion a wildflower—or two—will peek its pretty head out from the overgrown tundra that has become its unexpected home, thanks to a bird dropping a seed en route in its flight south for the winter. Mostly, though, this marshy piece of land is made up of tall grass and weeds.

When my husband and I first moved in, we tried mowing this area so it would blend into the surrounding landscape. It was not to be. Even in the driest of dry spells the mower would sink down into the still wet and muddy earth beneath.

“It’s just useless,” my husband would say, noting the look of disappointment on my face.

“Really? Perhaps I can try?” I offered.

A look of fear washed over his face. I knew what he was thinking. He would come home one evening from work to find his wife and his beloved riding mower sinking quickly into the marsh. I tried my best to assure him I wouldn’t do anything stupid, at least, not attempt anything stupid when he wasn’t home to help rescue me—and his mower.

Still I was not ready to give up on my vision of an unmarred rural New England landscape, one that would rival those pictured in a Country Curtains catalog.

As a teen I would bypass all those teen-cult magazines talking about how to zap a pimple or get a cute guy to notice you. My reading pleasure was a Country Curtains catalog. I would stare longingly at the pastoral views that were pictured beyond the multi-paned windows draped with material hanging on rods. I wondered what it would be like to live with views like that? (I now wonder now how many curtains did I buy from that catalog all due to my intoxication with the view and not the curtains per se?)

I no longer had to wonder. Each window from our little red house looked out upon rolling hills, cornfields and the green mountains of Vermont. And everyday, no matter how the day was going, whenever I looked out the windows, I smiled and thought, “Wow. I have my very own Country Curtain views.”

All except for that darn piece of marshy land right in back of our house. It was an eyesore to me.

My husband suggested we could turn it into a pond. Perhaps. But until then, every time I sat on the back porch there it was right before me—tall grass and weeds blowing in the wind with only the occasional pretty wildflower—or two if I was lucky—peeking out to cheer me up. I soon began to wonder why was that little piece of land always so wet?

One day as I took our bumbling Bernese mountain dog, Sofie, for a walk on our sprawling five acres, I got my answer. There up a ways from the marshy piece of land was a tiny steady stream of water flowing and feeding down into the weeds and tall grass. I walked along the stream of flowing water trying to find its source. Was there a larger stream? A pond somewhere I didn’t know about? A brook? I kept walking…and walking…and walking. I found no such bodies of water that were feeding this steady stream that nurtured my marshy piece of land. Perhaps there was an underground spring of sorts.

It was time to turn back to the house as the sun was beginning to set. And so we walked, me with my feet on dry ground and Sofie, of course, with her paws happily prancing in the tiny stream of flowing water.

As we got closer to the little red house, I saw something I had never seen before. There in front of me was the most beautiful tall grass blowing in the wind. There in front of me were these goldenrods made ever more golden by the sun’s setting rays. There before me was not a marshy eyesore I so badly wanted to get rid of. There before me was something beautiful created by living water coming from an unknown source feeding the grass, the burdocks, the weeds, and yes, even the occasional wildflower—or two.

Jesus talked many times about offering us living water—water that quenches what is dry and parched and brings life and hope back. Living water was a metaphor those in Jesus’ day would understand for out in the wilderness, after the much needed rains would come, water would be “alive” flowing on its own power bringing the relief those who were thirsty needed. The flowing water was viewed as powerful, mystical, sacred…and beautiful.

We all need living water. Water that not only quenches are deepest physical thirst, but living water that flows in our lives with a mighty God power, carrying us and leading us to all that is lush and all that is truly beautiful.

I looked down at Sofie still with her paws in the living water we had just discovered on our property, when all of sudden she assumed a hunting position with nose pointed forward, one front paw extended with one of her hind legs reaching back the other direction. I held more tightly onto her leash so she couldn’t lunge forward to get the beautiful red winged blackbird that swooped in and landed on top of the tallest pieces of grass swaying in the marshy piece of land that I had once thought was an eyesore. It was no longer that. I now saw it for what it really was. It was a sanctuary for God’s creatures—a sanctuary created by living water.

Life can’t be an unmarred pastoral landscape. We try to create such, but it just can’t be. Life needs a marshy piece of land with weeds and tall grass and burdocks and goldenrod and that occasional wildflower or two. A place touched by the power of living water which then becomes a blessing to those all around.

And so the marshy land still stands behind our little red house looking prettier than any Country Curtains view I could have ever hoped for.

It stands as a testimony not only to the power of living water on our property. It stands as a testimony of the living water I know that flows in my life, the only thing I need when my soul is parched.


The marshy piece of land, fed by the living water on our property, sits to the left beyond our old stonewall. It’s no longer an eyesore, but a beautiful sanctuary for tall grass, burdocks, goldenrod, the occasional wildflower or two, and yes, even weeds. And the birds love sitting on top of the high grass.

Farm is Now in Session

It was an idea discussed only in hushed whispers for many years. Students with farming backgrounds would come to the hallowed halls of seminary and make an important connection between farming and theology, and they would ask the question.

What if theological education could be combined with farming?

What if future pastors, many hailing from suburban and urban metropolises, actually had the opportunity to get their hands into the very dirt in which they talk about when the ashes are smudged onto one’s forehead and they say, “From dust you come, to dust you shall return.”

What if seminary could be a farminary? Farminary, an outdoor classroom where everything Jesus spoke of—the seeds, the weeds, the wheat, the grain that must die in order to produce life—became more than just words on a page, but became powerful, tactile lessons of God’s love for all of creation.

Students with farming in their blood would come to the hallowed halls of seminary—and they would go, leaving behind the ghosts of conversations hoping to be resurrected one day. The day of resurrection has come.

I stood on the soil of the soon-to-be-full-fledged hoop house on what it is now Princeton Theological’s Farminary, and smiled. For as I looked at the last of the peppers, the late in the season green beans and the strips of land being primed with compost in anticipation of the next growing season, it all made sense to me for it is in a garden, working the soil, planting a seed, dealing with grubs that stole my crops one year (a row of beets, broccoli and acorn squash), that I have felt so close to God. For the garden has been the place for me where life’s challenges, life’s failures, life’s defeats mingled with those seemingly fleeting moments of miracles, hope and, surprisingly at times, abundant blessings. It is in the garden where I have felt it the most. I have felt God’s hand on my shoulder. It is while tilling the soil and being part of God’s creation where I have learned to trust God’s provision—even when the harvest flops.

Now I am no farmer. I am a North Jersey girl who only knows how suburban sprawl grows. I have the reputation of being able to kill even the easiest plant to grow.

I am a North Jersey girl who shocked her colleagues when I said “yes” to serving a church in rural Upstate New York right on the border of Vermont all because I felt so strongly that there were lessons of life and faith waiting for me there. And there were many lessons of life and faith that I will forever treasure.

I am no farmer but I have attempted to “live off the land” but the soil on my Vermont homestead proved too rocky and too in need of the right nutrients that a novice like me had no idea how to remedy. My husband wasn’t surprise, and seemed almost relieved, when after two seasons of failed farming I announced, “I think I am just going to let the grass grow over that plot of land.” Of course, he cringed when I added, “Maybe you can break a new plot for me next spring over on the other side of our land?”

Friends who know me well look quizzically at me when I talk passionately about the lessons we can learn from farming and my desire to do so.

“Um, Donna, you know you can’t take your cute Kate Spade handbags out into the fields with you?” asked one friend who seemed as equally perplexed as she was concerned.

No, I am no farmer. I am the daughter of a woman who has harbored the same dreams of farming. And I am the daughter man who grew up on a farm in Switzerland. My dad, thought, left that life to become an engineer. Still I wonder if the Swiss farming DNA is in me, for I have always been a pioneer girl at heart, dreaming of having a farm, well, maybe not a full-blown farm, but at least having a successful kitchen garden complete with herbs both culinary and medicinal…someday…


The emerging hoop house where the first classes at Princeton’s Farminary were held this past spring.

For now, I am excited to see my alma mater has come on board with what those who have grown up on a farm know or those like me, who have served a farming community, know. There is much to learn about God while getting your hands dirty and while breaking your back tilling the ground. There is much to learn about God when witnessing firsthand the seasons of death and rebirth. There is a consoling hug to be felt when seeing your plants fall victim to an early frost. God knows and God cares. There is a gentle hand to wipe the tears of frustration when deer trample your corn. God knows and God cares. There is the resolve not to give up being strengthened when sharing these challenges and defeats in community with others. God knows and God cares.

What makes all of this so worthwhile? The feast that always comes—be it in times of plenty or times of want. For it is a feast of miracles and blessings from the soil to be shared with one another, brought forth and harvested through hard labor and trusting hearts. It is a feast spread before us that teaches us the most precious of all lessons. God cares for us deeply and so we, too, must care deeply and tend lovingly to the soil, to the seeds, to the worms, to the water, to one another.

School, um, I mean, farm is now in session at Princeton Theological Seminary. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

Here’s more of the Farminary story!