Month: September 2020

Harvest, a time to thank God

Harvest poster @ St. James, Whitechapel, Lancashire
created by Helen Smith & Sunday School children

John, a Vicar in North Lancashire once told me that on Harvest Sunday he had blessed the Atlantic Ocean . As his parish was extremely land-locked I expressed some scepticism about this. “The trouble with you,” he told me, “is that your vision is too narrow!” He then explained that on Harvest Sunday morning he had held a service at a farm in the parish. During this service he had blessed the farm’s water-supply, a stream which ran into a small pool and then out again at the other end. This water then flowed down into a small river which eventually flowed into the mighty Ribble. This in turn flowed out into the Irish Sea and the Irish Sea was eventually joined to the Atlantic Ocean . So John, by a small stretch of imagination and a big vision had indeed blessed the Atlantic Ocean .
I was both deeply impressed and very chastened!

John’s big vision was a reflection of God’s vision for Creation. Harvest Festival time is an opportunity to think about the Farming community and , despite the problems in Agriculture, to celebrate and give thanks for those who provide for our needs and share with God in the joys and fruits of creation.

It is also essential to focus on those who have no harvest.
This is a time of great uncertainty with all the effects of Coronavirus, not least the plight of the increasing numbers of those needing to use Foodbanks*. Then there is drought in various parts of the world, extreme heat causing wildfires in West Coast America, after devastating fires in Australia, the effects of war in the Middle East, the destruction of the rain forests, all of which are compounded by situations like the explosion in  Beirut which destroyed homes and lives, and so much that mars creation. Add to that the possible problems for farmers and food producers and sellers who will be affected if we have a no-deal Brexit.

Whilst these are big issues affecting us as we try to harvest the resources of our planet with responsibility, we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. In a world teeming with beauty there is a right moment to say Thank You to God for providing a world not only for our needs but also for our delight.

When, in 1843, the Revd R.S. Hawker introduced to his parish in Cornwall an Harvest Thanksgiving service, he simply wanted to give thanks to God and to the farming community. He did not guess then that by 1862 such a festival had become so widespread that the Church of England, encouraged by Queen Victoria, made it an official Thanksgiving.  Others have joined the celebration.

Though that Cornish Vicar lived at a time of rapid and deeply unsettling change in Agriculture as people started to migrate to the new industrial centres seeking work in manufacturing industries, he still saw much to give thanks for. We can get bogged down in the negatives in a way which blots out the positive. There is a wideness of vision which can take in the difficulties and problems whilst pointing us beyond them.

In rural Lancashire during the time I was there, we had the beef and then the sheep crisis in the space of ten years. Both had a devastating effect on the lives of the farming community. We also lived in an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Both the problems and the joys existed side by side. With so much beauty around us the area attracted many visitors. Today many farmers still tend the land but also cater for those in search of the beautiful and the breathtaking. Those indeed who are able to drive or walk through the countryside in search of something we might call spiritual and what I would certainly recognize as God, are often refreshed in spirit. With the brushstrokes of His creativity God has painted on a wide and deep canvas. We should stand back from time to time and enjoy the view.

Harvest is certainly a time to pray for farmers and give thanks for their provision of food. It is also a time to do something practical about the needs of the world.
It is, however, particularly, a time to thank God for all the providence and goodness towards us.


  • Foodbanks* throughout the country are reliant on gifts from the public. Many are currently overstretched and would welcome donations of food . Why not find out where your nearest Foodbank is and phone them to ask what are their specific needs. Then think about how you might be able to help. This too is an expression of thanksgiving.

God, the source of our hope

ocean gyre – vortex

A Meditation by Richard Rohr.
Some simple but urgent guidance to get us through these next months.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest in New Mexico USA and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Alburquerque. His teaching is grounded in Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalised. Each day he produces a meditation which you can subscribe to (free). Just Google his name and that of the Centre and register.

In his meditation for September 19th he offered some simple but urgent guidance to get us through the next few months in the face of the resurgence of Covid-19. He began citing three sources for guidance:

Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

These three sources form the core of my invitation.  
Read each one slowly as your first practice.
Let us begin with Etty:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.

Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp.

Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.

Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:

In God alone is my soul at rest.
God is the source of my hope.
In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.
Men are but a puff of wind,
Men who think themselves important are a delusion.
Put them on a scale,
They are gone in a puff of wind.

Psalm 62:5–9

What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather (in America especially). The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. (No guessing who he means!) The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society. (again a view of America but it has wider application)

It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the American population is in tangible decline! (We are also seeing increasing incidence of this in the UK.) We have, wholesale, abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).

We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre*
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Centre by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out …We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.

God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.    
So offer God that womb.

Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul. If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.

If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice for the next four months that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to—hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.

Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.

You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all. 
And the world—with you as a stable centre—has nothing to lose.
And everything to gain. 

Richard Rohr, September 19, 2020

*gyre – What does the widening gyre mean? A swirling vortex.

Yeats describes a nightmarish scene: the falcon, turning in a widening “gyre”  or spiral, cannot hear the falconer; “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”; anarchy is loosed upon the world; “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”

The poem is connected to the 1918–1919 flu pandemic. In the weeks preceding Yeats’s writing of the poem,his pregnant wife Georgie Hyde-Lees caught the virus and  was very close to death. The highest death rates of the pandemic were among pregnant women—in some areas up to a 70%. While his wife was convalescing, he wrote “The Second Coming”