Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Downhill Rows

And now, after last post's commercial interruption, back to Wendell Berry and the Peruvian farmers (sounds like a rock band, doesn't it...Wendell Berry & the Peruvian Farmers?).

Anyway, Berry noticed, when he looked up to those mountain fields, that the farmers had created downhill rows. Such rows allow water to run off quickly, leaving precious soil intact and preventing erosion.

Somehow this reminds me of the wisdom of Proverbs. Especially the proverbs that concern letting our anger run off quickly. Sometimes it is sweet to sit in our little red rocker, cuddle our anger, and sing ourselves to sleep. We love to kindle affection for just one more word in the argument. (Oh, I do anyway.)

So, I like to remember this...

For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. Proverbs 26:20

Rocker photo by Gail Nadeau. Used with permission.

Standing Seedlings Invitation: If you post something related to this Seedlings post, let me know and I'll link to you.



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Blogger spaghettipie said...

What? Are you suggesting that I'm not supposed to cuddle up with my anger? But we have a great relationship! I'm allowed to wallow in it for at least a little while, right? Long enough for the person I'm angry with to realize I'm right...

Good thoughts, as usual, LL. The art of letting go is so difficult sometimes because it means being self-less.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Ed G. said...


Thanks for this quietly profound insight. I, too, spend a lot of time cuddling and nursing my anger or a grudge. Your post reminds me of the wisdom and liberating power of letting go.

Hope you're well. Sorry that we didn't get to see you in Florida.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Okay, so now, I have this mental picture of LL, sitting in her red rocker, lips pressed into a hard, straight line, furled brow, abruptly jerking to and fro, like the inner workings of a clock, rather than the smooth, easy tidal flow that this fine invention was created for. "Mrs. Bar..." (Oops, she's rocking with a fury, claws extended. Run!) "nevermind; I'll come back later."

When I'm feeling especially tense, I take a walk, picking up twigs, breaking them in half, then half again, until I can't anymore.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Proverbs speaks to me like a wise old grandma....rocking me in her rocking chair...

8:08 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Spaghetti... yes, it must be hard to let it go (since we know you are right... :) What is it in us that wants to be right, and to make others know that without doubt?

Ed... ooohhh, a grudge. Now there's something that people don't often connect with anger. It's just their right to keep a tab going. I wonder what other things are really anger in disguise?

Craver... see, here's the thing. I think Ed hit it straight on: anger doesn't always look like that wonderful terrible picture of crazy B. in the frenzied rocker. Oh, and I like the sticks thing. So what happens when the last piece is broken? Is that the end of the anger?

Andrea... great image of wisdom. I always liked the picture of Her out in the marketplace calling, but the thought that She also comes to rock us right where we are is beautiful.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

“What happens when the last piece (twig) is broken?”

There is no “last” piece; there are always lots and lots of sticks lying around at the park. Physically, it’s an exercise in futility, but I have only done that during the times when I have felt ready to explode. Eventually, God breaks through and it ends up being a fruitful time of prayer. I have always gone back in a better frame of mind than when I stormed off. But I must stress that I have only had to practice this exercise three or four times in the last twenty years. Am I free from the sin of coddling and nurturing anger? Not really, but it’s a work in progress.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Your last few posts have got me thinking a lot. When it comes to timing, there are 3 possibilities: early, on time and late. With regard to being early, I know that when I am impatient my timing tends to be early.

For me, impatience is usually accompanied by anger. Proverbs 14 is filled with such good things in this regard. I have been especially helped by Proverbs 14:29 "He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly."

The idea that by slowing down I can gain great understanding has been epochal for me. If I slow down enough I gain so much understanding that I never (well, almost never) get to anger. I can't tell you how much my wife and children (and I!) have benefited by this scriptural truth.

Peace! Kim

3:02 PM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

Good comments here as usual. And a good reminder not to be a whisperer.

But darn it, sometimes I need to seek advice (and solace and encouragement) about what other people do to me! Like what someone did today. Grumble grumble.

There's got to be a balance between seeking wisdom (and not squashing all my feelings down inside until they explode) and refraining from rumor mongering.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I realize upon reading my last post that it sounds like I really have it all together. I don't.

But, my pursuit of Christ has become real. Sincere. Whereas, before I was "chief poser." Now, when I mess up I am spiritually aware of it. Before I would deny and deflect. Now my heart is sensitive to when I get angry. My spirit doesn't like it. I don't like the effect that it has on those around me. There truly is a struggle going on inside for the spirit to triumph over my flesh. But, the stronger my spirit becomes, the easier the battle is to defeat the flesh.

This might still be making me sound like I have it all together. The fact is that this exercise makes me realize that day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, I need a Savior because I am not capable of containing my flesh altogether.

Peace, Kim

3:25 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

These are lessons in MOTHERHOOD.

Shoring up my hillsides in preparation for the eroding rains I KNOW are coming...

Fortifying the slopes with the intelligent foresight that there is more to this plot of land than just this season's harvest...

Adopting a parallel approach (coming alongside) that allows nutrients to fertilize around the roots of my crop, while letting the dross peacefully trickle down the mountainside...

Robbing the fire of its fuel...

They're lessons I have not acted on the last month or two. I can tell too, the mountainside is washing away and taking some lovely crop along with it.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

L.L., Great photo, as usual and great thought (as usual as well).

Yes, to hold on to some things is destructive. And makes us miserable yet we still have trouble letting go. That shows how in need we are of God's ongoing work.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

By the way, I hope to get a digital camera in the near future (or not too distant). I'll use it a little on my blog I guess. Though I couldn't use it as well as you do (and others). Something to take up and have fun with is a big part of my idea there.

5:30 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Craver... I like that thought about the twig-breaking being an exercise in futility. Holding on to anger can be that way too.

Kim... impatience linked with anger. Good observation (and, oh, dear, now I have to work on patience too?)

Mark... yes, you raise a good question. What is the function of anger? Is it perhaps also a form of a "downhill row" sometimes?

Kim-again... I did not take your comment in a bad way at all. This is a place to think out loud. Feel free!

Erin... that's about three posts you've got there, girl. Most touching idea for me... that thought about thinking beyond this year's season. We can be so shortsighted.

Ted... oh, I got this picture in my mind as you said that... of us holding onto this thing that's eating us alive. If only we could visualize it that way sometimes. Maybe that'd help us give ourselves to God's healing touch.

5:35 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

Oh if there's anything I need to work on, it's those downhill rows. I hang on & hang on for dear life. If I need to learn anything, it is the art of allowing anger to run off (the Lord recently - and gently - brought this to light for me). I hold some old wounds tightly, closely, as if they were themselves pearls of great price. How I wept ...

I wonder: what would happen if instead of allowing the anger to pool (and erode the soil of my soul), I let it run off? What could take root & flourish there?

Again, some fantastic thoughts. Wendell Berry & his sidekicks, the Peruvian farmers have a lot to teach me!

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Like water off a duck's back" is what came to mind as I read about those downhill rows and all of these wonderful comments. A person with downhill rows seems like one who is not easily offended, doesn't take herself or others so seriously. I'm too often stuck in the rocker, though. Oh, to just let it go.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

When I read Charity's post it reminded me that I had posted at my blog P4E.009 Sovereign! in which I wrote about letting go of my sense of fairness and justice. With it went bitterness, frustration, impatience and anger...

7:42 PM  
Blogger 23 degrees said...

Some good comments here. Craver your comment about the sticks reminded me of a Jack Handy quote: "if you feel like killing someone go outside and pull some weeds because man, you'd be surprised."

LL, your comment about holding onto something while it eats us alive reminds me of Goya's painting Saturn Devouring his Children. Not a pretty picture of what a grudge can do to us (never really hurting the other person)

I don't think I will go out on too much of a limb, but I think anger is a gift. "Be angry and sin not" many times overshadows the fact that we NEED to experience anger—BUT we need to keep under control and make good choices when we are angry (a wise man restrains his anger). As believers we often see anger as a bad thing, maybe because we feel so out of control? Or we have seen only the bad that anger brings. Maybe we just don't recognize a righteous anger because it is under control and has positive results. I wonder what the disciples thought when they saw Jesus weave a whip and chase the vendors out of the temple? I wonder how that looked?

I came from a *tough* situation a couple years ago where anger helped me to recover, to function until I could process with open eyes my wounds and the dark state of those who wounded me. I think I walked on the edge of the abyss quite often, but here I stand, thankful I took the risk.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know growing up I had a major problem with anger. The problem was I would just shut myself off from someone if they hurt me or mad me mad. It was the wrong thing to do and I probably missed out on keeping more friendships when I was younger because of that. Anger and I used to be good friends but I'm working on breaking that up. It's one of those friendships you SHOULD NOT have :)

And speaking of animals from a few posts ago, I changed up the whole point of my blog. I'm not sure how it's going to go over, but with time it will grow. Thanks for your support!

10:18 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Kirsten... I do wonder what it is that makes us hold on so tightly sometimes. What is it for you?

Charity... oh, I like that about not taking myself too seriously. Learning to laugh is perhaps a key to lightening up in the irritation department!

Kim... let me know if you do a new post on this topic. I like to link to current discussions when I can. And I enjoy your thoughts.

23 Degrees... so you've begun to answer my question to Mark, about whether anger can be a "downhill row" in itself? Anyone else want to add to this? Also, that painting sounds intense! But I want to see it.

Stephanie... this is good. Do you have any special strategies for breaking up with anger? Can't wait to hop over to your blog and see the transformation.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you stopped by. I always look forward to what you have to say! All of the animals on the side are mine. The first 2 are adopted/rescued animals. It does feel really good blogging about something other than myself :)

10:51 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

That painting of Saturn Devouring His Son is gross. There is an interesting book about how to handle anger in a godly way. It’s called The Other Side of Love. In it, the author suggests that anger is a type of gauge or warning system that is triggered whenever we sense injustice. That’s good when we respond by righting a wrong, and protecting the innocent, but our sin nature often distorts things and we sometimes just want to look out for ourselves, when we really should be trusting God and turning the other cheek.

11:16 AM  
Blogger kirsten said...

LL - I think for me, the hanging on has to do with a few things - a sense of being treated unfairly, a sense of entitlement (as in "I was wronged & I'm going to wear it like a badge"), and just not having the grace to let it go. I think sometimes I use it as a crutch: I'm impaired because someone did something bad to me. Maybe so, but why not release that to the power of One who can do something good with it.

These answers lead me to even more questions, but it's a journey I need to go on ... loving other people's thoughts here too. It's good to get some different perspectives.

11:58 AM  
Blogger bluemountainmama said...

the rock stars :) DO have much to teach us....and you have such a wonderful way of gleaning life lessons from these physical aspects of farming.

i used to pride myself for not being easily angered...until i got married....and then became a mom. amazing how these things can become a magnifying glass to our selfish, sinful nature.

and resentment......oh my! got a loooong way to go there!

12:36 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

Oops. The link for the painting should be:

Saturn Devouring His Son

(I accidentally inserted a period.)

12:50 PM  
Blogger 23 degrees said...

Craver, thanks for the link. I was comparing the painting to what holding onto a grudge can do to us (it consumes us.) Thanks for the heads-up on the book.

Kirsten, I am moved by your comment, "what would happen if instead of allowing the anger to pool (and erode the soil of my soul), I let it run off? What could take root & flourish there? " I love the picture this paints.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Eve Nielsen said...

Just wanted to thank you for all the times you've made me laugh at your hilarious comments over at Good Word Editing. My kids often hear me and ask me what I'm laughing at. It's so good to laugh out loud from time to time :)

2:27 PM  
Blogger Kim said...


I don't know how you link to my post, but here is a link (I think)

I have a take on fairness, justice and anger that not everyone will appreciate, I think.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

So, runoff is a good thing?? That makes sense.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Mark Goodyear said...

L.L., you continue to amaze me with the comment traffic you inspire in others! I bow in humble fealty before your high blogness.

Today is better, so I guess the downhill rows worked for me. In fact, just posting that comment here helped.

Charity, I'm with you on the need to not be "easily offended." But I'm always unsure how to deal with people who seem intent on offending and challenging and pushing and dominating and... Deep breath. Really, I'm not angry. : )

And, Ted, you don't have a digital camera yet? It's the best purchase I ever made!

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Craver and 23 Degrees -- You're right, the painting is really gross. But a good picture of what bitterness and grudges do.

I was just thinking about a time when downhill rows don't work as an agricultural method. Apparently, in rural China, they were using downhill rows for corn (probably because downhill rows works for a lot of other things). A missionary was just recently tell me that for corn, however, the downward rows was causing the corn fall over on itself because it is so top heavy. The answer for this was horizontal rows and polycultural plantings of corn and alfalfa to gird up the soil and stalks.

So, in light of our conversation, I suppose there must be a time when we need to let the anger stick around in order to make us stronger. Maybe in cases when action is necessary for social justice? Any thoughts?

5:16 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I just re-read what I said about this post being about motherhood. I think what I meant was that I have been an angry mother this week. So it's about anger, but for me, how my anger impacts my mothering.

I appreciate the discussion about the positive aspects of anger. I've yet to see much good come out of my motherly anger though. Anger is like uranium in my hands. I don't know how to properly handle it in order to harness it's power for use. All I do is sling it around and give cancer to everyone in the vicinity. :|

8:41 PM  
Blogger Christianne said...

Erin, I've heard anger defined as what comes out when we are fiercely protecting something vulnerable inside, like an area of woundedness or something we fiercely want to keep from harm. So, when you get angry at home, I wonder what is being triggered in you to provoke that response? And what, in the root of that trigger, are you trying to protect? That is where you might see some good, and perhaps even some beauty, come out of anger. And maybe the next step is learning how to release the care for that thing in the appropriate direction: to His capable hands. Thoughts???

Oh, and the lingering question in my mind in light of the posts and comments is the obvious one (sorry for the Remedial 101 on this, guys): What does it even mean to let our anger "run off"? Do we mean that in the sense of not letting it stick around, or in the more active sense of letting it have its way but quickly? Or both? Or something else altogether?

9:33 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Mind if we converse in your comment section? ;)

Christianne, that's a good probing question. My bare bones answer is that my exposed vulnerability is a small stash of personal rights (my perceived rights) being stripped away. I considered myself to be a sacrificial mother, but gee whiz guys, c'mon! (Can you tell this week has been, um, challenging?)

In part, it's my fingers clinging to rights I never really had in the first place but thought I did, and part of it is that my kids are offenders. They DO sin against me, as cute and angelic as they are. So I defend the few personal rights I have in this household.
But like I said, the skilled handling of my anger when those rights are trampled is something that escapes me. Anger is such a knee-jerk, primal reaction to most of us that the damage is often done before we know what really happened.

It's not eternally important that my brand new, 3 day-old laptop was just used as a knee board to skooch a child down the length of the hallway. But by the time I have assented to that fact and determined that this can be a great learning experience and blah blah blah... See? I'm still stuck on the laptop and why, oh why, can't I turn my back for one minute to make YOUR breakfast without MY stuff being dismembered!!!
I'm busy fuming and whining, not shoring up that hillside in my kids that prepares them for a life of responsibility, knowing how to converse through a conflict... discipling them.
I seek a convenient life. Don't nobody mess with me.

Time for me to take a walk and break some sticks.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Eve Nielsen said...

Hey Marcus,
the answer is to simply consider the source and ignore it (well not really so easy)...and then break a few dishes *grin*

11:21 PM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

I love your pics LL! I can just imagine sitting in this chair watching the sun go down. I love your wise words too!

Have a nice weekend!

6:49 AM  
Blogger A Musing Mom said...

I'm late to the conversation here, but I've been thinking about the whole anger as a downhill row. I think the times are rare, but when someone grievously wrongs us we need to get angry to go through the whole process of grief. If we don't acknowledge another's sin and its very real effect on us, then how are we to truly forgive? Some people insulate themselves so much emotionally that they don't go through this process. Sort of a denial thing.

Again, that case is rare but I've seen with my own eyes how righteous anger has brought about healing - that downhill runoff effect.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Mark, Our finances are always tight, it seems, especially lately. But I need to get a decent one because I want to have a real hobby. And I love good photos, I've found from looking at websites and blogs such as this one.

Though I'm sure I wouldn't use them as well or as often as L.L. and others do.

11:45 AM  
Blogger kirsten said...

I think anger can be a downhill row in & of itself. In this world, if you're not getting angry about something, you can't be paying attention. There are plenty of things to get "righteously" angry about.

My mind keeps turning to the scripture, "in your anger, do not sin". No one's saying not to get angry, but not to let it consume you. This gives the evil one a foothold (Eph 4:26-27). I suppose anger is just that powerful; if we let hold it too close, too tightly, or for too long, it gives the enemy of our souls a nice place to latch onto.

Nothing terribly profound here, I realize. I'm just thinking about how best to let it run off. I imagine it takes a healthy dose of grace, and having some means by which we can resolve it (conversation, action, etc.). I don't know what the answer is, but I'm feeling privileged to be taking part in this dialogue.

23 Degrees - I wanted to thank you for your comment. I think I'm just beginning to realize what not resolving my anger/old wounds in a healthy way can do to me.

5:59 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Hi all...

Wow, I wish I could respond to each of you separately, but that'd be one Really Big comment. Can I just say how amazed I am at all the expressions here...of honesty and frustration and musing and wisdom? I hope some of you will do posts of your own. It seems we've opened up a huge subject here.

To me, anger is one of those "red flags" in life that says "something is wrong here." And then there's this moment of decision... do I break sticks (be honest, maybe getting the worst out in a harmless physical way first), do I break sticks (hiding my hurt and fear but dismembering my own soul), or do I break sticks (giving full rein to my hurt and fear and sense of injustice and breaking someone else to pieces). Well, I suppose I've done all three. The interesting question to consider is when have I (and you) chosen which twig session and why?

And now, a big hug to all (I hear Craver offers this on his blog sometimes too!)

7:54 AM  
Blogger Christianne said...

Laura, I'm with you -- the many turns with which all of us have examined this question of anger is inspiring. It's truly a human question, which is why it's sparked so much.

Erin, I've been meditating on your remarks for quite a while, even sending out some prayers on the Holy Spirit's wings in your direction, since I honestly cannot know what it's like to be in your shoes (not being a mother myself). I suppose what strikes me as such a difficult quandary of your situation is that it involves the forming of little human hearts. I'd be inclined to say, "Of course you're a person too! You're entitled to feel what you feel!" And this is true. But it's also tricky because the actions of a parent affect the little ones they're forming. Part of me wants to say God is big enough to overcome our human failings, even when they're inflicted on someone else. Another part of me wants to say that He sees you as just as much of a child as your children are to you, so you get to relax a little bit. Still yet another part of me wants to say that He values your feelings and wants them to come to light -- because how else can we even learn and grow in truth? And yet another part of me wants to say that I see the other part about dying to self, and how does that work with the great value He also accords to us?

So, nothing profound here, either, as Kirsten echoed. Just wonderings, and an appreciation for the confusion and helplessness such situations must provoke.

1:51 PM  
Blogger S.Hunt said...


Like always, I enjoyed reading your post. Your analogies are insightful. Again I leave with something significant to ponder. Thanks!

5:52 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I'm coming to this discussion late, but I must say it's timely for me! Something happened at Starbucks this weekend after which I thought I was going to start slamming lockers and punching five-pound bags of coffee in the back room. I don't usually (thank God--by which I mean thank God) get that angry. But there's something sort of addictive about it. You'd think it would be easy to make rows go downhill and let stuff run off, but sometimes it just isn't.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

LL, Wow, Like Mark Goodyear I am amazed at the comment traffic your blog generates. That's wonderful!

On a completely different level: As a civil engineer, I am having difficulty with the whole idea of "downhill rows." Unless Peruvian soil is very different from where I live, downhill rows would not prevent erosion, but contribute to it (think Grand Canyon). Water flows downhill and the faster it goes the more debris it moves with it. There must be some other reasons for planting in this fashion besides minimizing erosion. No matter, it's still an amazing, comment generating topic.

Thanks, too for linking my blog, Preparation 4 Eternity. I really, really appreciate it.

Peace, Kim

3:14 PM  

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