July 26, 2006


1521 page5 cap dozen fireflies are out this dusky evening, winking on and off above the unmown hay in the lower pasture. Against the deepening gloom of hemlocks and dark pines, their incandescence delights the eye, calms the nerves, restores the soul. Sleep my weary, sunburned son, all eager to be grown and gone. Sleep my child, and peace attend thee, all through the night. The fireflies are out.
From the Adirondack chair to which my body has surrendered itself, I watch this nightly symphony of light on my grandfather’s old farm. Just when July melds into August, this is always where you’ll find me, chewing on a stalk of timothy, inspecting the edges of the fields for early blackberries, offering earthworms to trout at the end of a languid line. This annual ritual of living closer to the earth has carried my sons and me for 10 years now back to this place of rich beginnings, shedding our suburbanisms like men shed ties and coats on sultry summer days. My wife will sometimes join us, sometimes not: she likes her space without the mice and spiders. We males play and walk; we fish; we talk—all to a rhythm unimaginable in our manicured Maryland neighborhood.
1521 page5And every year, including this one, I will tell my boys the stories from this farm that I hope they will someday tell their children here—stories of hard work and laughter, sweat and pluck and piles of cordwood; how the woodchuck once fell in the well; in which field the best potatoes grew; when to pick the cowslips in the swamp. I will point out once again the aging schoolhouse on the main road, dating from the time of Jefferson, to which my aunts trekked every day in mud and snow and springtime rain. And I am sure that I will grow more than a little misty-eyed—again—as I remember all the love and learning that has emanated from these fields since my grandparents bought this place some 90 years ago.
For an Adventist farm couple without a day of college between them, my grandparents got something very right about handing on a love for learning. By latest count, their descendants and their spouses have now contributed a combined 300 years of teaching to the church’s educational system, spent in places such as Manchester and Moscow; Abidjan and Cedar Lake; Keene, Zambia, and Syracuse; South Lancaster and Walla Walla. In tiny, overheated church basements, in spacious, well-lit lecture halls, these dozen teachers carried forward something that first winked to life in the old house just up the road. The map I see in my mind’s eye shows incandescent points of light where each one taught—sometimes briefly, often lingering—and always with a settled sense that how they served counted for both this world and the kingdom.
My dozen fireflies are thousands now: across the cooling fields new clusters blink in steady intervals, reminding me that all of life is part of larger patterns. The quiet pride I find in being connected to so long a line of teachers suffuses in a wider gratitude for godly men and women everywhere who work against the darkness of unopened minds and gloomy worldviews. Tonight, I celebrate the gospel certainty: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
As I sit here this lovely evening, 6,000 Adventist elementary and secondary teachers are moving toward a rendezvous 1,000 miles south to renew their vision and commitment. From every corner of the continent they will come—often weary, sometimes struggling—seeking confirmation that the light they are still matters to the church, still matters for the kingdom. We—the collective “we” of a million Adventists in North America—owe them more than we can ever say, and far more than we usually say. The love they lavish on our children; the excellence they require—and get; the patience they exhibit when young minds are lazy or just languid are cause for all the honor we can give. Their incandescence—altogether in Nashville, or apart in solitary classrooms—delights the eyes of faithful people everywhere. Their shining calms nerves young and old; and, yes, my friends, it really does restore our souls.
All is well, my sons, all is well. The fireflies are out tonight.