Joined: 16 Nov 2006
|Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 10:47 am Post subject: Harvest by Phil Silk
|NEWCASTLE STAFFS UNITARIANS
24 September 2017
Let us begin our service today by lighting our chalice, as thousands now do around the world. Today let the flame represent the power of growth, the thrust of life, which brings forth many harvests.
The produce we have gathered in will be shared out with others after the service, providing some practical thanks for what we ourselves have.
Let us now share a time of quiet, as we reflect on what harvest means to us...
Our thoughts go out today for all who suffer bad harvests, such as droughts, hurricanes, war, earthquakes, tyranny,illness and floods. We are grateful for what we have and that we can help improve future harvests for the good of all. AMEN
PART ONE Harvest Home
“Raise the song of harvest home.” Yes!
That is what people have done since first we learned to use wild grasses back in the dim past of thousands of years ago. Having discovered the possibilities of agriculture, we have sown seeds, tended the blade, ear and full corn and then labouriously but happily reaped and stored the corn for another year. There is evidence that before agriculture people did give thanks for the animals, plants, nuts and berries they hunted and gathered; but with the advent of agriculture, people became more involved as partners with the life forces. By celebrating the ingathering, people marked the end of the tremendously important annual cycle of growth and seasonal work. (Today there can be more than one cycle a year due to improved products, processed and climate change.) We also remind ourselves of how dependent we are on the divine forces in the universe, which allow us to survive at all, usually, let alone labour, harvest and celebrate.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we set aside a time to celebrate harvest home, especially as most of us are rarely directly involved in agriculture; just consumers.
We have before us now some gifted samples of harvest in our day. Note the artistry, too, another gift to be thankful for.
Years ago, Joyce and I were digging tatties in Scotland one year when the crop as the biggest I had seen. The weather was mostly good, too. But even then I was aware of how crofting and farming were somewhat precarious occupations: some of the spuds were rotten; some had scabby skins; others had worms; many were tiny; some had not grown at all - even next to giants in the same row! Some had crazy shapes, too. Nonetheless, we were lucky as the work was spread out over several days, where as formerly it was not only done in one day, but neighbours worked till dark on the next field, too, eating along the way. They even had a two-week school holiday so the children could help; the holiday continues, but not the customary work.
No doubt you have read of past harvests or seen them in films. Maybe you have actual direct experience or an allotment. But certainly, harvests themselves are made easier with modern technology and we shoppers have it easy. We don't even have to go to the supermarket. As we can order online. We can get a wide range of goodies from around the world all year long, although local produce does usually seem to taste better and involves many travel miles and pollution. But the social aspect of harvests -even of shopping- are a definite loss. Digital contact is easy, but somehow less personal, and we are social creatures, not just isolated individuals.
One way we are expanding our food production is growing crops indoors in water instead of soil. Called hydroponicum, Joyce and I first met it in Achiltibuie on the west coast of Scotland. The local hotel wanted to use local supplies, for quality and economy, but the local environment was so rocky and windy, they had to try something else. So, they created an unusual greenhouse where they could grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices in water, away from the vagaries of the weather. Furthermore, the system runs by recycling, so there is no pollution either. Now the owners can grow just about anything and export the knowledge, systems and produce as well, helping others.
Over time people have developed new breeds and hybrids, new feeding systems, new health- care methods and we continue to do so. Who knows what we shall be eating and drinking in days to come, and with what dangers and benefits.
But we do know that humans will still be dependent on the forces of nature. However clever and adaptable the human race is, we will always be dependent creatures. So we shall always need something like a harvest festival to remind us.
Now let me share with you three readings:
1. “Alf” by Colin Morris
“Let’s be fanciful for a moment and demonstrate our global inter-dependence by considering the antics of one mythical Englishman. His day begins as he steps out of his pyjamas – a garment which originated in the East Indies, and washes with soap invented by the ancient Gauls. He shaves, a masochistic rite first developed by the ancient priests of Sumer and made a little less unpleasant by the use of a razor made of steel, an iron -carbon alloy discovered in Turkestan. Then, down to breakfast. The table cloth is probably made of cotton from Uganda and the cutlery of South Africa or Rhodesian chrome, nickel from Canada and vanadium from Peru. A cup of Indian tea or Kenyan coffee, a slice of Danish bacon, an egg from poultry which foodstuffs have been imported from any of 30 countries, ranging from Iceland and Chile to Japan., and he's ready to go.
Alf then dons a close-fitting suit, a form of dress native to the Asiatic steppes; he adjusts his tie, which is, of course, the vestigial remnant of the shoulder shawl of a 7th century Croat. Then complete with hat which originated in Eastern Asia, and umbrella, invented by the Chinese, he will dash for the train (which, thank God, we British DID invent.) He pauses to buy a newspaper using coins which first made their first appearance in ancient Lydia. Then he settles back to scan the day's news – which will be set out in Arabic characters on a Chinese innovation, paper, by means of a German process. He'll snort with disgust at the antics of those dreadful foreigners, and thank a Hebrew God in an Indo-European language that he is 100% – a decimal system invented by the Greeks – English, a word of course derived from Angle, a district in Holstein.
But as Alf would say, we really ought to have been minding our own business all those centuries. He could then have cut a dashing figure in a wolf-skin with his face decorated in Woad.
There is no escaping the fact that we are hopelessly indebted to all Mankind for the very sinews of our life. A thousand tiny filaments join us to (people) of every race under the sun.”
2. Story “I Have Said to the Worm 'Thou Art My Mother'” by David Doel
Worms dig their way through the earth, eating their way through life. Plants push their roots into the ground, but if the worms had not broken up the ground it would be hard as iron. The worm grinds the earth so plants may eat: brings down decayed leaves to act as manure. There are about 50,000 to an acre of land and Darwin estimated they would lay several tons of fresh soil over every acre in a year. Without the worm, there would be no grass or plants or fruit or vegetables; there would be no flowers or beauty upon the earth and no harvest. And yet, people despise them and crush them thoughtlessly beneath their feet.
What a frail, soft creature the worm is; how easily crushed. And yet what work it does. We may feel small and insignificant and easily crushed, but our weakness and frailty, too, may be transformed into strength. The worm works without thought of reward or praise, doing just what God intended; working in the background, fulfilling her vocation in silence. She does not seek fame or fortune, but from her quiet labours spring beauty of Nature, the dramas of Shakespeare, the music of Beethoven and the mysteries of religion,”
3. “I Remember With Gratitude” Howard Thurman
I remember with gratitude the fruits of the labours of others, which I have shared as part of the normal experience of daily living.
I remember the beautiful things that I have seen, heard and felt – some, as a result of definite seeking on my part, and many that came unheralded into my path, warming and rejoicing my spirit.
I remember the moments of distress that proved to be groundless and those that taught me profoundly about the evilness of evil and the goodness of good.
I remember the new people I have met, from whom I have caught glimpses of the meaning of my own life and the true character of human dignity.
I remember the dreams that haunted me during the year, keeping me ever mindful of goals and hopes which I did not realize but from which I drew inspiration to sustain my life and keep steady my purposes.
I remember the awareness of the Spirit of God that sought me out in my aloneness and gave to me a sense of assurance that undercut my despair and confirmed my life with new courage and abiding hope.
PART TWO Thanksgiving
“Let us give thanks for the gifts which we share.” Yes, we are concerned for all our harvests, not just the fruits of the fields. Harvest was once an appropriate symbol of this broad response to life, but today perhaps less so. We do give thanks for the growing of food and the human and divine share in that, but in today's world, even our dependence on food – and weather – involves more than just sewing and reaping; indeed, far more than agriculture. I suggest we at least need to broaden our concept of harvest to take in all the gifts of life.
In the Old Testament, we learn that the ancient Hebrews had an agricultural ceremony which became associated with an historical event, the escape from slavery in Egypt. It was called 'Succoth', The Feast of Ingathering. History, tradition, cultural structures and values, relationships, the arts – all are recognised, but the agricultural, then the historical aspects dominated the others. I think we should emphasise the whole gamut of things we benefit from, all the blessings of life.
In America, the harvest became associated with the survival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, when the natives helped them through the difficult conditions in their first Autumn and Winter, in 1619. Not only did they, do they, celebrate the harvest and the history, they feature their gratitude for it. They call it 'Thanksgiving' and now fix the date as the last Thursday in November, rather than the actual date, the 25th. I think 'Thanksgiving' is eminently more suitable for the full range of meanings involved in what we call 'Harvest.' 'Thanksgiving.' What do you think?
Whatever we call it, we do need a special time to focus on our dependence, the gifts we receive, a chance to appreciate all gifts, a time to respond with thanks, and a time to recommit ourselves to adding our own gifts to our world.
Now let me share a few short quotes on giving thanks,
First, one from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is 'thank you', that would suffice.”
Next, one from even further in the past, Cicero: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but also the parent of all others.”
Third and last, one from a contemporary UUA RE leader Joyce and I know, Gene Navias.
“Let us ask ourselves, how often do thoughts of gratitude well up within us all unbidden? They are warming thoughts, those spontaneous thanks that flow over us at times. They are praising-whatever-you-praise thoughts and they make life better. Such is their force that they take some of the edge off our aggressiveness and envy. The welling wonder of them makes the separateness of the human condition feel less separate – both people and the universe friendlier, troubles lighter, sorrows comforted, worries and fears less foreboding. These rising waves of thanks spring up when we are open to life, when we forget petty wants and irritations and are receptive to what is around us.”
READING by Kenneth Patton “Who Can Make an Accounting of His Gratitude?”
“For the universe we give thanks, a room of life to stretch us with wonder,
For the earth we give thanks, fragment of the stars that is our home, swathed with air and washed with waters, its skeleton of stone cushioned with the fat of loam.
For life we give thanks, the burning of the stars ordered and tempered to the milder uses of chlorophyll.
For the goodwill of (all people) we give thanks, for their accustomed acts of consideration, for the order of society that enables us to live in dignity and freedom.
For the co-workers of the world we give thanks, for the merging of our labours in which the goods of prosperity may be brought to all, for our possessions made for us by another's hands, which establish us in our gratitude.
For parents we give thanks, whose patience has blessed us all our days, passing to us in turn the honour of our children and the delicacy of their hands and feet.
For growth, beauty, brotherhood, for all the forces that enrich us, ways past knowing, power past our control, ages past our sojourn, we give thanks.”
It is not always easy to feel grateful, as many of life's gifts are not good. But one gift really helps: the ability to be flexible and to respond positively, individually and collectively.
RESPONSIVE READING “We Are Thankful” by Dorothy Wilson
For the glory of the sunshine and the clear air out-of-doors,
FOR THESE AND FOR OUR HEALTH TO ENJOY THEM, WE ARE THANKFUL.
For the shapes of the hills and the trees, and for the colour of flowers and the sea,
FOR THESE AND FOR SIGHT TO ENJOR THEM, WE ARE THANKFUL.
For the songs of the birds and the streams, for the music of human laughing voices,
FOR THESE AND FOR HEARING TO ENJOY THEM, WE ARE THANKFUL.
For stories and books of all ages, for the arts and the songs of all peoples,
FOR THESE AND FOR A MIND TO ENJOY THEM, WE ARE THANKFUL.
For all who have loved us and cared for us, asking only our love in return,
FOR THESE AND A HEART TO LOVE THEM, WE ARE THANKFUL.
For all who have made the world better, for their hope and courage,
FOR THESE AND THE POWER TO DO GOOD, WE ARE THANKFUL.
PART THREE Thanksliving
We do give thanks for the life-supporting agricultural harvest. We do give thanks for all the other gifts of nature and humanity, past and present. But that is not enough, important as they are. Better still is 'thanksliving' going about our daily lives with an attitude of gratitude, determined to make our own contribution to the abundant life for all. In the words of one writer:
“Were thanks with every gift expressed,
Each day would be Thanksgiving;
Were gratitude its very best,
Each life would be thanksliving. (Chauncey R. Piety)
Another writer put it this way:
“Gratitude is more than a feeling...It is a way of life…Gratitude is more than simply acknowledging our gifts. It takes the form of using lovingly what has been given us, of assisting the process of life by transforming gifts bestowed into gifts rendered.
“Thus, genuine gratitude is realised in our deeds, in the manner in which we share our gifts with others, in the quality of our contribution to making the world a more liveable place. It is for this reason that Thanksgiving is important. But it must be integral to the celebration of each moment, to see how we hallow each day of our lives, not merely in passing recognition of a single day of the year. (Harry Hoehler)
So, gratitude is a way of life, one which will enhance your life and the life of all you come in contact with. Thanksliving, living with an attitude of gratitude. What a lovely expression: 'an attitude of gratitude'. It has become a mantra for me, something I repeat to myself as I seek to settle or focus. Try it and see. It helps me, I know. That is the message I hope you all can take with you from this service: thanksliving, with an attitude of gratitude makes life better for you and those you meet. It is a holistic and holy way of life.
In a sense, that is the message of most of our worship. Today we link it to all aspects of agriculture and our dependence on it. We have also linked it with the broader view of the rich harvest of the rest of nature and all the benefits we have inherited from our forebears and are today receiving from people around the world.
Finally, and briefly, what can we do to share all the gifts life has given us? I have a friend who answers such questions by asking “How long is a piece of string?” I take his point: we cannot do everything, ever. But one of my favourite hymns tells us” All are architects of fate”. Whatever we do counts, for better or worse. And as Bonaro Overstreet told us” However little power I have, I am determined to use my 'stubborn ounces' for good.”
In the Old Testament, Leviticus tells us when harvesting “Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of the field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of the harvest; thou shalt leave them for the poor, and for the stranger.” We still need that concern for the poor and the stranger, even in a welfare state. I know we as a congregation do reach out to the disadvantaged individually and collectively, but is not easy to choose the most effective ways to help or to decide how much is enough...
What else can we do? We shall decide day after day. But one simple thing we can do is contained in a riddle: What is it that all need, all can give, and is worth nothing until it is given away? That's right, a smile. And the ripples of results can spread to untold others. That we all can do, every day.
The topic is endless; the service is not; but we have the rest of our lives to taste and see whether or not thanksliving works for us.
PRAYER Spoken and silent
Today our thoughts and feelings focus on Harvest. And we ask ourselves, “Am I really grateful? Do I really appreciate the gifts of life? And we probably answer 'Yes' and 'No'. Yes, when I feel well, and people are nice to me, and things are going well. Yes, I often feel happy to be alive. But when I am ill or in pain, or when things go wrong at home, at church or around the world, I do not always feel grateful.
No one can make us feel thankful, but others can help us appreciate the gift and gifts of life. And we can help ourselves, too. We can share our joys, insights, achievements and good fortune. We can give each other support and encouragement, so gloom will go. We can remind ourselves of the contribution of nature and of human beings that have brought us to the life we have, so that gratitude and inspiration will grow.
Much we have received. Much we can give. Let us give thanks. And let us live with joy, mutual concern and dedication to living with an attitude of gratitude. Thanksliving
UNISON CLOSING WORDS
“BE OURS A RELIGION WHICH, LIKE SUNSHINE, GOES EVERYWHERE, ITS TEMPLE ALL SPACE; ITS SHRINE THE GOOD HEART; ITS CREED ALL TRUTH; ITS RITUAL, WORKS OF LOVE; ITS PROFESSION OF FAITH, DIVINE LIVING.” (Theodore Parker,548 G)
We put out the flame to end the service, but the power of growth goes on forever.