Rogation – a big vision

Langdale Pikes – snow in May | Gill Henwood

Rogation (meaning ’to ask’) has traditionally been a time when we ask for God’s blessing on the land and the crops growing in the fields. This was combined with a tradition known as ‘beating the bounds’. A Church procession would walk the boundary of the parish, pausing to pray for God’s bountiful goodness for the farming community as well as ensuring the parish boundary was observed and marked. I know of an ancient custom in the Northern town of Oldham of erecting seven crosses around the boundary of the parish thus claiming – or re-claiming – the land for God (and, less spiritually, ensuring that tithes were paid to the Church!)

When I lived deep in the countryside, we fought shy of actually beating the bounds because a part of the boundary was up a fell which peaked at 1059 ft. Whilst it would have been easy for a fit person like myself, (I may be telling an untruth here) we had to consider more delicate flowers in the congregation. So we contented ourselves with a gentle ramble through bluebell woods and an open air service at the local Scout camp. I think Gill Henwood, who took this photo of Langdale Pikes draped with snow last week, may well remember the bluebell wood walk.

The priest/poet George Herbert, writing in 1630 commended the custom for 4 reasons:

  • As a blessing of God on the fruits of the field.
  • As justice in the preservation of the boundaries.
  • As an act of charity in loving, walking and neighbourly accompanying one another, reconciling differences and forgiving wrongs.
  • As an act of mercy: as the blessing of God was invoked, the people were to be mindful of the needs of the poor and give them what was needed for their well-being.

This blessing of God’s earth was sometimes given a wide interpretation!  Once, when I told a clergy friend about our bluebell walk, he responded rather sniffily that he had done something much more spectacular – he had blessed the Atlantic Ocean. So there!

As he was Vicar of a landlocked parish up on the North Lancashire moors I expressed my disbelief. So he told me:

“We had a service at one of our local farms and running through it was a little stream. I blessed that. The stream flows into a local river which then joins the River Ribble. The Ribble  flows into Morecambe Bay and from there to the Irish Sea which eventually becomes the Atlantic Ocean. So I blessed the Atlantic Ocean.“

I had to give it to him – he either had a fanciful imagination or a big, big vision!

God has a big vision for his world and for all he has created. We tarnish that vision with our selfishness and our failure to bless, care for and feed a world in great need. Our desire for the well-being of others and a healing for our earth are needs that we have to respond to as well. It is no accident that Christian Aid Week, when money is raised to help countries and peoples less fortunate than ourselves, is linked to Rogationtide. At a time of blessing, we should become people of blessing to others. I write this just days after we have been told that Her Majesty’s Government has considerably reduced aid given to developing countries. This is, in my view, a lack of vision and also a failure to see that Global means Global (to recoin a phrase!).  As the Psalmist reminds us

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it. (Psalm 24. 1)

Never more than today is that vision needed for India, Brazil and so many other places on our planet. It isn’t enough to look after ourselves – the vaccines God has given us the knowledge to find are not our property but for sharing.

As St. Ambrose says:

“It is not from your own possessions that you are bestowing alms on the poor, you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right. For what was given to everyone for the use of all, you have taken for your exclusive use. The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone. Thus, far from giving lavishly, you are but paying part of your debt.”

It is hard to argue with St Ambrose, but why should you want to?

In Britain, Christian Aid Week this year is 10th—16th May. Because of Covid, door to door collections are risky for collectors.

If you wish to help the poor, the hungry, the sick and needy, please visit Christian Aid’s Website or support through the Roman Catholic CAFOD website.

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