Welcome Home! Anyone who has been to Bethlehem Farm will silently smile when they read those words. For anyone who has never been there before, it can be a bit unnerving. I still remember being greeted by Farmer Tim upon my arrival on a balmy April afternoon with a welcome home and a huge bear hug. Having never been before, it seemed rather odd but became a source of joy as I watched countless faces over the months give the same reaction, wondering, where the hell am I and what have I gotten myself into?!?
It was at one of the most turbulent times in my life. As my health had declined, I had stepped away from ministry. I had just resigned, packed up my belongings after dumping a lot of it, felt quasi-homeless, my dad was admitted to the hospital, and there I was venturing hours away to a place I had never been. It was so outside my comfort zone but at the time needed something to keep me engaged, even if it was for a month. It’s only in retrospect I can see just how much my foundation had, with each given choice, falling apart, at least what I believed to be my foundation as a person. It seemed as if everything I had known was slipping through my fingers and I was doing something absolutely ridiculous, heading to a farm in the middle of nowhere West Virginia. Just about the only thing Alderson, WV is known for is the prison which housed Martha Stewart, and well, The Big Wheel! You really have to go to truly appreciate the milk shakes there!
After leaving the Farm (even though I’ve returned a few times since), Colleen asked me if I’d be willing to put a few thoughts down on paper describing my experience, as a man who had planned on staying a month and extended it to include the second half of 2019, as someone searching for meaning in a life seemed void of it, someone learning to trust on a much deeper level than ever before. I still believe the words to be true today as when I wrote them a few months back.
“I believe the novelty of the Farm, when it comes to faith and trust, is that it assists in revealing a deeper part of yourself that has always been in existence. As you well know, the act of simplicity, which so many speak about when they arrive, for me is central. As you begin to let go of the trappings of life, which are often reduced to phones and electronics, the deeper parts finally have space to surface. I believe, in my experience, the trappings include what others think, outside authorities, comforts of home, routine, etc. They are what I found myself trapped in when I arrived. If the Farm is truly of the Spirit, and I do believe it is, it simply begins to reveal the deeper truths and you begin to trust that instinct, that voice, that Spirit (whatever you call it) and your deepest identity (in God) is not only revealed but you learn to live by and through it. It would explain the change from restlessness to peace that I learned to live.”
If I had to sum it up, the extended time at the farm was about finding this sense of home in myself. It’s not just a cute little saying mentioned to pilgrims as they arrive for their experience. No, it’s an invitation into something much deeper than a mere welcome to a property. More often than not we are unfamiliar with the vast landscape of our interior home. We live in a world with so many distractions and ways to avoid the deeper crevices of ourselves where we seem like a foreigner, and even a fugitive, in some sense, from our own selves. We do everything to avoid and are often convinced of others they know what’s best for us and can define us in their way, we lose sense of ourselves.
It’s not until we can begin to silence the voices of the “authorities” around us when we can finally begin to hear our own voice, silently waiting for us to listen and consistently inviting us home. Whether we can admit it or not, we all wander beyond ourselves looking for answers to many of life’s complex questions. However, the answers to our deepest values and the meaning we thirst for have always existed deep within us. Like any of us who travel to the ocean for recreation, from the time we are kids we’re told to stay in the shallow waters. However, shallow waters will never fulfill this thirst. We eventually need to go out into the depths of the ocean, confronting our fears, or dig into the deepest part of the earth, in order to find what we’re looking for most in life. We eventually need to be called “home” to begin to accept and settle into our own skin for who we are, not who others want us or expect us to be.
The wayward path varies for all of us and some choose over and over to never engage it. We see the negative energy within many people who have been unwilling, and sometimes, unable, to enter into the journey “home”. We refuse and shut down rather than dealing with the necessary pain we confront along the way. We, as a society, have lost our larger story of this journey in order for personal gain and short-term success. However, this time of pandemic is inviting us into the deeper journey, the long-term journey, through the recesses of our hearts and souls beckoning us home, maybe for the first time in our lives. Beyond basic needs, if there is a push within you to return too quickly to a life which was, that restlessness is a summons you’re being invited into. You may ask the same questions, “Where the hell am I and what have I gotten myself into?”, but this is only natural arriving at an unknown place in yourself. Somewhere, deep within you, there is a voice saying “welcome home” wishing to embrace you with a bear hug reminding you of the value you are not by what you do but because of who you are.