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Life in Community

The Unkindest Cut – On Caesar and Scything

May 30, 2017 by

Some years ago, I was scything around some peach trees in the early morning dew and cut myself while wiping off the blade. I looked at my hand in exasperation. The cut was fairly deep and starting to ooze bright red blood. I thought I’d be hamstrung in my labors for at least a week.

Then I remembered an old conversation with a Native American couple – they were Iroquois, I think – who told me some tidbits of traditional wisdom. The wife related how her ancestors, when sick, could walk through a wild meadow and hear the healing plant for their malady calling clear as day. I decided to try a variation on that, and looked around the orchard I was scything in. Sure enough, the smooth vibrant leaves of bindweed – wild morning glory – seemed to beckon, so I wrapped a choice leaf tightly around my cut and went merrily home to breakfast. To my amazement, the cut was pretty well healed in twenty-four hours.

Simon with a scythe

This got me wondering what other ancient wisdoms I am missing. The Old Testament commands us to sit “at the feet of the elders.” Not to worship them, but to absorb encouragement, and to better use our short lives on this earth. We should all find people of wisdom and take time with them. Herbal medicine is only a small part of their legacy. Elders can help you with relationships, with making sense out of mortality and immortality. People who we think are wise may disappoint us when they bow to the winds of change, but we would do well to seek their strong points, and not poke around for areas of disagreement. And, if we find someone so steadfast that public opinion has no effect on their beliefs, then we have found a true counselor.

All this will give us a chance to heal, heal from the deep cuts of betrayal, heal from slashing anxiety and hatred, heal from abrasive envy and gossip, heal from a gnawing fear of the future. It will give us a chance to step back and be what we were meant to: instruments of peace, channels of peace. As the old saying goes, “Imagine what you will be doing 1,000 years from today – and do it now.” Or, as St. Augustine said, “Learn to dance, or the angels will not know what to do with you.”

Forgiveness is naturally part of this package, even to forgive the “unkindest cuts of all”: a terrible childhood, an absent parent, an unfaithful spouse, a pastor who misleads, or a church that disappoints. All these must be forgiven so as not to double the damage.

And so, the next morning I went out to scythe again before breakfast and remembered what Russell Means said: every time a wild bird flies out of a tree – indeed every action of a living creature – tells us something not only about the natural world, but about the supernatural.

As a wise man once said,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Take time to fill your heart with joy, not fear, no matter what your situation. Fill it completely full. This is how we regain our humanity.


Attention! You’ll have noticed the references to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. That’s because just a few weeks ago I watched an astounding performance by the middle school students at Woodcrest, and I can’t get the famous lines out of my head. They’ve just posted some of the most gripping scenes on our YouTube channel, so make sure you check them out, and don’t forget to subscribe to get all our videos delivered directly to your device.

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About the author

Simon Mercer

Simon Mercer

Simon Mercer is a free-thinking Anabaptist, would-be poet who lives at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof.

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  • Excellent! Thank you, Simon.

    Mark Anderson