Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this period of gradual unfolding,
when we have finally come out of our year-long lockdown,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short time,
let us put our worldly cares aside,
close our eyes and imagine ourselves
to be in our places of worship,
surrounded by members of our beloved community,
and be together, if only virtually,
for this short hour.
(you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed (adapted)
We kindle this flame
to remind us of sunlight falling
without distinction on our fields
and forests, bringing their harvest
to fruition. So are we attached to
the earth and given strength to live,
to love, and to give thanks.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
as we come out of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 5:16-23
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Lughnasadh / Lammas from The Wheel of the Year by Celia Cartwright
Lughnasadh is the first of the ‘Harvest’ festivals, the ‘First Fruits’. The festival stands at the heart of the light half of the year, which began at Beltane and ends at Samhain. It is dedicated to the god Lugh who, in Irish mythology, stands out as a tribal and cultural hero. He is the deity of Light. The festival has two aspects: it is a time of funerary games and of weddings – the games are said to be funerary ones after the burial of Lugh’s foster mother, Tailte. Yet it is also the wedding of Lugh to Eire, the festival of sun and earth. It has, then, a feeling of warm union, yet of death, for it is the first of autumn: there is fiery descent and a sense of sacrifice, for the crops still growing in the fields are about to be chopped down…. The corn is cut down and reborn as a loaf of bread (hence Lammas, or Loaf-mass).
The time of Lughnasadh is the time of the beginning of reaping – of revelling in the height of summer, and yet recognising the reality of death-in-life, for soon Autumn will come and, with it, darkness and cold. So it is a time of rejoicing, but also a time of preparation for the [season] ahead.
Prayers for Lammas by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
In our hearts,
If not in our hands,
We bring to this holy place
The first-fruits of the harvest.
In gratitude and worship
We set them before the Creator.
Let us rejoice in all the good things that God has given us.
There is a harvest of the land.
We gather to give thanks for the food
Which sustains our bodies.
There is a harvest of the spirit.
We gather to give thanks for the apostles
Of truth, and love, and liberty.
The first fruits of the land’s harvest
Bring hope of nourishment,
Dispel the fear of hunger.
The first fruits of the spirit’s harvest
Bring hope of a better world
For all humanity.
Let us give thanks. Amen
Summer Plenty by Gabor Kereki, from Songs for Living
The air lingering among the trees is full with the fine atoms of summer.
Brushed from the waving corn, swept from maturing grasses, sweetened by the fragrance of flowers, the golden dust of sunshine is breathed by every living thing.
The power of the sun is felt over land and sea; high over the lark’s over-flowing song, over the intensely glowing colours of flowers, where butterflies dance in rapturous motions.
Summer is the season of plenty; there is no limit to its generosity; everything is on a scale of splendid waste.
Every blade of grass, every tiny leaf, every bough and every sweet red apple, the blue sky and the far horizon – all is there for us to share.
Let us absorb the bounty of summer plenty into our lives; let us gather its broad happiness into our common existence.
As we share the fine atoms of summer, so shall we enjoy their glory.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
Peace in the Summertime by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place (adapted)
God of summer,
whose gifts are sunshine
to brighten our lives, and
storms to keep them green,
we turn to you in gratitude
for this season.
Help us to relax
and make the most of its warmth and beauty,
to store away the memories of summer that
help sustain us through winters yet to come.
We are grateful for times and places to enjoy ourselves –
parks and gardens, beaches and swimming pools,
mountains and woodlands – whether we seek peace
and solitude or good company and noisier pursuits.
Let us take our gratitude into the silence…
Help us to let go of our frantic busy-ness
and find peace in the summertime.
A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Every faith has its festivals, which are important punctuation marks in the religious year. Of these, harvest festivals of various kinds are possibly the oldest, and certainly the most universally celebrated. Every day of the year, a harvest is being gathered somewhere in the world. Wherever and whenever there is a successful crop, people hold a festival. It is a time for thanking their god for providing them with food. The common features of these harvest festivals are the ideas of celebration, giving thanks and sharing.
And today we celebrate Lughnasadh, which is one of the eight Pagan festivals of the Wheel of the Year and is celebrated on either 31st July or 1st August. As with some of the other Pagan festivals, it was taken on board by the Christian church and is traditionally the time when the first fruits of the harvest are brought to be blessed. In the early English church, it was customary to consecrate bread made from the first ripe corn at Mass on this day, probably in thanksgiving for the harvest. Hence Lammas or Loaf-mass.
There is also a long-standing Jewish tradition of bringing the first fruits of the harvest to be blessed, as laid down in the Torah. This happens during Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, usually in late May or early June, as the wheat harvest in Israel is earlier than ours. Shavuot also celebrates God giving the Torah to the prophet Moses on Mount Sinai. There is a lovely story that the Jews waited so long for Moses to return that their milk turned to cheese. This is why cheesecake and cheese-filled pancakes are traditional Shavuot foods.
This custom is also referenced in other places in the Hebrew Bible, for example, “Honour the LORD with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce.” (Proverbs 3:9). The ancient Jews also saw themselves as the first fruits of God. In the second chapter of Jeremiah, we read, “Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest.” But more of that later.
Whichever of these traditions we as human beings follow (and there are harvest festivals in most of the world’s religions) it is clear that the impulse to give thanks for the bounty of the earth is a strong and long-standing one. The tradition of offering the first fruits of the harvest to a deity has many roots. Which is as it should be. Far too often, we take the bounty of the earth for granted.
I think it is a shame that Western society has grown so far away from the rhythm of the seasons, and the agricultural cycle. Even when I was a child, which I know my children believe was sometime in the Dark Ages, but really isn’t so long ago, harvest still meant something, at least to a child brought up in the countryside.
But now, ask anyone where their food comes from, and they are likely to reply, “from the supermarket”. You can buy pretty much anything all the year round – strawberries in December, parsnips in June. But this universal bounty has its down side. We have lost contact with the changing order of the seasons – and I think it is a loss. The Western demand for all kinds of everything all the year round has had far-reaching effects all over the world. Farmers in developing countries now grow “cash crops” such as coffee and bananas, instead of food to feed themselves and their families.
The tradition of celebrating the safe gathering of the harvest is a very ancient one, far older than Christianity. I found a fascinating story in a book about harvest festivals which I borrowed from the library: “In ancient times, people believed that a spirit lived in the crops that they grew. They thought that when the fields were harvested, the spirit was losing its home and would be hiding in the last bundle of stalks that were cut. So the last sheaf was cut carefully and kept until the next harvest or ploughed into the soil. In this way farmers were making sure the spirit stayed with them and gave them a good crop the following year. Sometimes the last few stalks were made into little figures called corn dollies, which represented the corn spirit.” So that’s where corn dollies came from!
For me, another significance of harvest festivals is that it is the only time in our busy year that we take time out and look back on the achievements of the past year. In traditional terms, this is linked to the successful gathering in of the crops, but I think it could be interpreted more widely. I consider harvest as the time of year when I can stop frantically planning for the future, sit still for a while, and take stock of what I have achieved during the past twelve months. It is also, very importantly, an opportunity to be grateful and to give thanks for the good things that have happened to us in the past twelve months. I think we don’t do this enough. And finally, it is a chance to review what has not gone so well, particularly if it was our fault, and to resolve to do better next year.
Because in a certain way, we too are the crops which the Divine has planted. Or that is what I believe. So, coming back to the idea that the Jews also saw themselves as the first fruits of their God, which I mentioned earlier. Paul, who was a Jewish Pharisee before his road of Damascus conversion to following Jesus, possibly had this in mind when he wrote his Letter to the Galatians, with the famous passage which formed our first reading. He urges his readers / hearers to follow the promptings of the Spirit rather than yielding to the desires of the flesh and enumerates the nine fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Paul’s use of the term “the desires of the flesh” to stand for undesirable behaviour is an unfortunate one, in my opinion. It has led to much persecution of people who simply want to love one another in diverse ways. I (and many theologians these days) suggest it would be better to use the term “the system” or “the world” to stand for undesirable values. Because it is when we are led by worldly values rather than listening to the Spirit that we fall into the “sins” which Paul lists: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, [and] carousing.” You can see that only a couple of these are directly related to sexual relations: fornication (and possibly) carousing. But some parts of the church have interpreted “impurity” (for example) to mean any form of sexuality they don’t agree with. It is only in recent years that more enlightened thinking has begun to prevail, but there is still a long way to go.
I believe that some of the other “works of the flesh” Paul mentions are far more serious in their impact on others – enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy. All these divide people against each other and can lead to violence, if not outright war.
So while we thank God (or whatever you choose to call the Divine) for the material first fruits of the land, let us consider the idea that each of us is also a part of the divine harvest. And that it is largely in our hands, what kind of crops our living will result in. Each of us is born into a particular family, in a particular place, and become members of a particular society with a particular culture and values. In that sense, we are planted – it is where our roots are.
But each of us is also born with free will and a complex brain that is capable of evaluating the accepted values and culture of the society we live in and choosing whether to follow them or, if we disagree with them, to strike out on our own, establishing our own values and (hopefully) living by them.
As I said earlier, Paul enumerates the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I wonder what kind of world it would be if we all concentrated on trying to cultivate these fruits in our hearts and souls? And then offered them up to God by enacting them in our lives… I believe our world would be a much happier, gentler place to live in if we all learned to get along with one another. Each of us is a sentient human being, with the power of choice. And our choices have the power to dictate how we react to other human beings, to incidents in our lives and in the lives of others.
So let us tend our souls with care so that the fruits of our lives make our world a better place. As Cliff Reed, wrote, “The first fruits of the spirit’s harvest bring hope of a better world for all humanity.”
May it be so.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to the belief that we have the power
to choose how we behave towards others,
and to learn to tend our souls with care,
so that our lives bear good fruit.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come.
Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley