In a world of ever-increasing complexity and choice, it can be quite helpful to be told what to do sometimes.
That’s why I’m not the only one drawn to lists like ‘5 tips to reduce plastic’, ‘7 ways to be effortlessly cool’ and ‘9 things to do with a waffle iron’.
One piece of advice I’ve been thinking and writing about recently has a slightly older release date. It’s found in a book, Leviticus, written at least twenty-five centuries ago:
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.’
It’s just one of a number of disarmingly generous instructions, which also include:
- If you forget a sheaf when you’re harvesting, don’t go back for it
- When you beat the olives from your olive trees, just do it once. Leave whatever’s left for foreigners, orphans and widows
- Once every seven years, in the year of jubilee, cancel any debts owed to you
- Don’t store up any harvest that your land produces naturally during this time. It isn’t for you. Give it to the slaves, servants and foreigners, and also let your livestock and wild animals enjoy it.
I find this ancient life advice deeply moving and highly compelling, but I’ve also been unsure what it might mean in twenty-first century practice. I’ve wrestled with what leaving the edges of my field for those in need might look like in a suburban semi with a garden full of dandelions.
How should this guidance be reflected in my bank statement or calendar or shopping habits? Maybe it means buying more ethically-sourced products or volunteering with a local project. These activities have value but they seem piecemeal in comparison with the bold beauty of the leave-the-edges-of-your-field model.
Then it occurred to me.
I think it might be all about margin.
From the earliest age, we learn to fight our corner, to protect what we’ve gained and to grow it, to compare what we have with others. We’re told to live life to the max, to supersize it, to get ahead and stay ahead. Then, because we worry about not being or having enough, we hoard and hold back, just in case our resources run out in an unknown tomorrow.
But if we look more closely at that Middle Eastern field, its unharvested edges mark out a margin – a border, set aside for those who truly don’t have enough, who have more needs than they have provision.
It’s a strip of holy, jubilee ground.
It is the sign of a person saying ‘Enough – this is as far as I will harvest and no further’ so that others may have enough.
It says to those who are hungry ‘This was grown for you.’
It says to those who feel excluded ‘You are included.’
In today’s world of greed and gain, loneliness and lack, we can choose to say ‘Enough and no more’. We can set an intentional limit on our accumulating and busy-ness and reckless spending of finite resources – and there will enough for those who have need of it.
If we refuse to give our attention away cheaply to a thousand glittery things we won’t be blind to the person right in front of us who feels unseen.
If our home isn’t rammed full of stuff there will be physical and mental space for the person who needs a bed for the night.
If we resist spending all our money every month there will be enough to quietly help someone on hard times.
If we set and stick to boundaries of rest we’ll have strength to draw on when we need to be strong for someone else. We'll be less likely to be depleted and exhausted and brittle.
There will be enough.
This is not something I have even begun to approach achieving, but it is something I've seen and not been able to look away from.
It’s why I’ve been writing in any gaps I can find for the last year and a half. It’s the subject of the book that has emerged, provisionally titled ‘Enough’, and this is a first draft fragment.