Johanna Benthal outside her chicken coop. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Have you ever had a song playing in your head on “repeat?”

It’s sometimes an annoying commercial or a song that brings back memories of the good ole’ days that truth be told weren’t much better than the ones in which we find ourselves at the present time.

If an annoying song is playing in my head, I purposefully replace the melody with one that will uplift my mind and my spirit – usually a contemporary Christian worship song reminding me of God’s goodness and love.

Lately though, I’ve had this very old song playing in my head – like a lot. I decided to look up the words and found some beauty of its own.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

The song is attributed to a Shaker named Joseph Brackett who is said to have written it in 1848. Over the years some verses were added which enhanced the song’s original beauty and intent. I like this one:

“Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be fair
’tis a gift to wake and breathe the morning air
and each day we walk on the path that we choose
’tis a gift we pray we never shall lose.”

I believe that God works in mysterious and creative ways to get our attention and show us his love. When I paid attention to the lyrics and the melody which played in the background, I realized a purpose in the simplicity of the song.

The words inspired a conversation with my daughter about simplicity and what the word means to her. Johanna mused, “Simple things are really important things like family and friends and coffee and God.”

I’m pretty sure she spoke in order of importance, knowing that we both make a cup of coffee before our morning prayer time.

Jo continued slowly: “ My life is better – a lot slower and simpler since we started my farm.”

As I’ve alluded to in previous columns, “Jo’s Farm” is our pandemic project- a backyard farm complete with chickens, goats, and vegetable and flower gardens. We hope to soon add bees to add to the beautiful butterflies and hummingbirds and support the pollination efforts of these special species.

When many programs and services shut down for people with disabilities, we wanted to build something at home that would keep Jo entertained and busy with meaningful work. Little did my husband and I know that our lives would also be greatly enriched through the effort it takes to run our little backyard farm.

And I had no idea before this year that chickens and goats have personalities and are incredibly intelligent. Some days I feel like our rooster is my right hand man on the farm as he lets me know when something is wrong — when winged predators are lurking in the sky above or when we’ve inadvertently forgotten a chicken who was free-ranging in the yard.

Who knew roosters can count?

Everyone benefits from having routines. For people like my daughter who have brain injuries resulting in disabilities, routines are essential to living a calm and peaceful life. Since the advent of Jo’s Farm, collecting eggs from the chickens and feeding hay to the goats have become an important daily routine.

I’m happy to support Jo in these pursuits by adding farm chores to my early morning routine — tasks I considered a labor of love. But what I didn’t expect was the peace I have found in the simple tasks of opening and closing the chicken coop and the goats’ stall in the morning and closing them in just after sunset.

Our lives have a rhythm now that is dictated by the sun’s path and the changing seasons. We notice when storms are coming without checking weather apps, but rather by watching the sky and paying attention to how the air feels in the morning and evening hours.

Hawks, ospreys and even eagles nest nearby providing us with hours of enjoyment as we watch the skies. I used to see turkey vultures as an ominous sign, but I now appreciate the way they glide through the air. When they roost in the trees behind our yard, they look like prehistoric birds resting from their hunt. As nature’s sanitation crew, vultures have a key role in cleaning up the natural world around us.

Our lives are slower than they’ve ever been before and I think I really like the pace.

Years ago, Jo suffered a bleed in the main artery of her brain, requiring her to be in a drug-induced coma for almost a month, while her brain was struggling to stabilize and heal. As she lay there connected to a ventilator for every breath, I would frequently recite a Bible verse that I had written on a piece of paper and taped on the hospital bed just over Jo’s head.

Psalm 19: 1-4:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

At the time, these verses reminded me that God speaks in simplicity and in silence, even when we have no words. Jo literally had no words, but her presence revealed God’s love for us.

These days, Jo’s speech is soft, slow and sometimes unsteady. It takes her a long time to find the words to express the brilliant thoughts she’s trying to convey. But we’ve learned to be patient and quiet, realizing that Jo always has something to say and it’s worth the wait.

Goats and chickens obviously don’t speak words like you or me. Although, I swear our goats have realized that if they end their bleating with an extra “m” sound, I respond sooner — conditioned to the word “Maaaam.”

But besides that, there is definite communication happening between us and the natural world outside our door and on Jo’s Farm. The lessons we are learning in the simple tasks of caring for nature and these creatures reveal God’s creative love for us.

Indeed as the old song plays on in my head, my spirit agrees. It is a gift to be simple and free, to wake up and breathe the morning air and discover that where we are now is exactly where we ought to be.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this article was first published under an incorrect byline.

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Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen