Living Off the Clock

I read a beautiful National Geographic story online about the Sami (or Suomi, or Lapps as we called them years ago.) These are the reindeer people, many of them still living their semi-nomadic life above the Arctic Circle. They are very much in tune with the environment around them, with the signs of weather and the ways of the reindeer. Although they once followed the reindeer according to where the reindeer thought to go, they are now confined to certain pasturing grounds. This has affected how they live by forcing them to herd the reindeer more, using snowmobiles rather than their traditional skis and sledges, and it has changed the reindeer, often causing stress and lower birth rates. The Sami believe, and are most likely right, that the reindeer know by instinct and herd decision where they should be, but the government thinks differently.

A friend recently wrote me with a question about forming Christian community, and I posted to him the article about the reindeer people. This is what I want to do; I almost feel compelled to it. I don’t mean move to northern Norway, but live a life according to the seasons. Christians should be good at keeping the seasons, as our church year is seasonal. Yet we are so often driven by the clock and calendar. We are driven by expectations which, when we examine them, are worldly and not other-worldly. This earth is God’s creation for us. He placed us here. And when Eden was brought up from the mist and mud, there were no roofs or clocks or shops. It was just the animals, God, and then the adama – the people of the earth.

So this earth should be our world, not the world of buying and selling, of status and prestige, of power and money. We speak of the two kingdoms because we humans built the second one; that tower of Babel is not finished, nor abandoned in our desires. There is but one true kingdom, and that is the Kingdom of God. Jesus told His followers that it is at hand – meaning imminent, and at His resurrection, that Kingdom was founded.  But in sin and blind ambition, we refuse to fulfill the promise of the Kingdom, and live on in our fantasy world, regulated by clocks, driven by desire, harassed by human, not divine, expectation.

My recent round of  illness was aggravated by worry and the feeling that I needed to get a job, get better medical care, get it all done so that I could rest and maybe recuperate. I can hear my mother’s voice yet in my head criticizing the pile of laundry and the dusty floors. Dear mother, you left this world more than decade ago, with not a dirty dish in the sink and the laundry folded. I most certainly would put up with mountains of dirty clothes and floors that yet needed washing to have you back.

When we work closely with animals, a lot of other things hang fire. Sometimes the herder or shepherd leaves everything – dirty dishes, phone calls to return, sermons to write, checkbooks to balance – because the herd needs their human companion. One animal down can cascade into illness through the whole flock. Things must be done when the time is right, usually not a moment sooner nor a moment or two later. The flock becomes the focus. And I believe this is as it should be.

Shetland sheep via wikimedia

We will not regain Eden before the return of Christ, but we can work at living in God’s Kingdom now. That may seem like an impossibility to many people, who are tied to work hours, with debt to be paid. Nor should our work be other than in the Kingdom; must we work for unethical companies, at soul-destroying jobs? And even if we are satisfied with our work, is it really what God intends for us? Getting free of debt as quickly as possible, planting even a small garden, spending more leisure time in natural surroundings are good beginnings to living closer to the Kingdom. Sometimes our church home stands in the way as well; there’s an issue for all Christians to consider. Is the church itself too much of this world? I know mine is often too concerned with raising money and finding new parishioners, while employing church leaders concerned with their ambition and advancement rather than with the health and well-being of their flock.

I hope to be closer to the Kingdom myself in seasons to come, really closer to our flocks and herds, spending more time as a herder and shepherd rather than as a household manager and professional worrier. I do desire fields and pasture for the animals where they can be what they are, and I can be with them. But we too are constrained by fences and government; we too, as the Sami, must adapt somewhat, even when we see that it is not the best thing. We can always work for change, though. We can work toward restoring something of Eden, a place in which to wait for the Lord’s return. Best that when He comes to us, He finds us at the work He gave us, not the work of the other world.

by Edward Hicks

National Geographic article:http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/11/sami-reindeer-herders/benko-text

More information about the Sami by the Sami: http://boreale.konto.itv.se/samieng.htm

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2 thoughts on “Living Off the Clock

  1. I think you are exactly right. Many times we have had to put our activities on hold to care for our animals. But I never grudge them that time since I am their caretaker. For the most part, we don’t live for the clock anymore, more for dusk or dawn.

  2. I cannot tell you how frustrated we became over the last years when we could not do very much at all toward the way of life you are speaking of, that we felt compelled to do for many years before. Because of our son’s illness we had to learn how to give up not only doing more along those lines, but give up what little progress we had managed to make. And the dishes and dust sit longer than they should for this reason and not because weI have a herd to care for. I sometimes think that I cannot figure anything out because I am smashed up against the sides of this box and cannot get out of it to get a proper perspective – so I may sound crazy. But the plain life to me included what you are talking about. To certain plain groups or people it doesn’t. To the group we have been with it doesn’t and while there was some support for some aspects of being plain, but no understanding let alone support of this important ( to us) other part. You might understand why we have begun to question our original convictions. All this said, I have been feeling for some time that change is coming and I continue to have a sort of anticipatory type of excitement deep down. Our son is making big improvements and we are taking him slowly off of all medication for the first time in 8 yrs so we can evaluate some health issues that could be caused by meds. Not with his dr’s blessing, by the way. Lots of battles ahead. But we are feeling like there may be new opportunities ahead for us as a family and so I am trying to patiently and quietly wait to see where He directs us – I mean, trying to discern still whether this is all just a choice or did He give us these leadings years ago? It is so confusing to us because of not being able to act on those leadings for years, but on the other hand? We have learned a vast amount about how to care for our health in a natural way through our son’s journey and if it had not been so catastrophic we would not have educated ourselves to this extent. I think it will help us to eat well and stay healthier without needing the system we won’t be able to afford anyhow in the not too distant future.
    Joanie

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