Sunday, 31 July 2011
The Wheel Of The Year Turns
"When thy reapest thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: It shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands."
The first of August ushers in the festival of Lammas. This festive day, the origins of which go back into perhaps ancient history, traditionally marks the beginning of the grain harvest season and autumn in general. While it was observed in many different ways around the country, a common tradition was to take a loaf of bread to church in order to give thanks to God for His beneficence and to pray for blessings upon the coming harvest. Enamoured as I am with rural life and its culture I too had the privilege today, on the eve of Lammas, of taking a freshly made loaf of bread into my chapel. Combined with some lovely jams and lemon curd brought in by a fellow member of the congregation, a delightful little repast greeted the worshippers during our fellowship time after the morning service. Inquisitive as Unitarians tend to be, there were many questions about why the bread was there, and as a result they discovered an aspect of British tradition that they might not have known about previously.
True to the season, the fields surrounding my home are now in the process of being harvested, the land stripped of its blanket of wheat which was planted earlier in the year or even last year. The wheel of the year turns and it never ceases to amaze me or fill me with an awe that is indescribable, reinforcing in my heart the awareness that our world is an ever-present witness to a profound wisdom.
This world is not chaos; it has an order inherent in every aspect of it, large or small. The seasons and all they bring are clearly purposeful, and I would go further; are clearly the work of One incomprehensible mind. The ancients regarded the many forces of nature as somewhat separate from each other, each a master of its own domain that could be petitioned, appeased and in some cases manipulated, so that the aspect of nature it was said to be responsible for could serve and not harm the interests of man. Then a new voice was heard that taught that all those apparently disparate forces, are nothing other than the expressed will of one single and Almighty God. An entirely new relationship with the Divine was born in the hearts of man, one that has utterly changed our world. The more we have discovered about the workings of the cosmos, the more the unity of the Divine has become apparent. Even those who remained uncertain as to the existence of God were not unfeeling to the mystery of creation itself:
"You find it surprising that I think of the comprehensibility of the world...as a miracle of eternal mystery. But surely, a priori, one should expect the world to be chaotic, not to be grasped by thought in any way... Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by man, the success of such a procedure supposes in the objective world a high degree of order, which we are in no way entitled to expect a priori. Therein lies the 'miracle' which becomes more and more evident as our knowledge develops."
Last week I watched a wonderful BBC programme called The Code. In it the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy reveals the mathematical code that underpins all creation. From prime numbers that guide the, critical to survival, timing of the emergence of certain species of cicadas, to Pi which is to be found within all circles both man-made and natural. This great mystery, the nature of the spectacularly ordered, mathematically regulated laws of the Universe is outdone only by the even greater miracle, that our limited human brains are made in such a way that they too recognise the fundamental pattern of creation and can utilise it to create all the technology and know-how that has contributed so much to our collective knowledge and success:
"There is one qualitative aspect of reality that sticks out from all others in both profundity and mystery. It is the consistent success of mathematics as a description of the workings of reality and the ability of the human mind to discover and invent mathematical truths"
John Barrow, Theories of Everything.
Keeping our minds on the rationality of our universe can also help us to have trust in a future of which we do not know. We can, if we so choose, walk simply with God. For He who orders our world, who sustains all and whose wisdom lays behind the changing seasons, the ripening grain, and the harvest bounty, will also guide us along our journey, leading us on the paths we must tread. Free in the embrace of this trust we can turn our attention to our duty towards our Maker and His creations, or as our teacher Jesus taught:
"For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow; for the morrow will be anxious for itself."
Children are now off school, families are spending greater amounts of time together, perhaps on holidays in which much money has been invested. This is an opportune time to harvest as much happiness and joy from this season of togetherness, and convert them into lasting memories that will sustain us through the winter months until the sun's warmth returns next spring. Just as the farmer is bidden, during the harvest season of abundance, to remember strangers and the disadvantaged, so too we should share our late summer happiness with those who could benefit. Perhaps some holiday money could be set aside to provide for those who lack. Perhaps an acquaintance or even an estranged family member can be invited to join a family celebration, outing or even barbecue!
May this coming month fill all our lives with happiness, peace and success, and may we make proper use of the blessings bestowed upon us, and by so doing walk our journey's road in the guiding embrace of creation's Author.
"The Lord my pasture shall prepare, and feed me with a shepherd's care;
His presence shall my wants supply, and guard me with a watchful eye;
My noon-day walks He shall attend, and all my midnight hours defend."
Joseph Addison 1712