'Grace' - MP3 (Click Here)
'As You Sow' - MP3 (Click Here)
Whilst the formal idea of a Harvest Service was a Victorian invention, the idea of giving thanks at this time of year for our food, and for the bounty of the Earth seems a completely natural thing to do.
Here, in the West, we are always at risk of overlooking how fortunate we are. Our supermarkets are bulging with produce form around the world. Seasonal foods are often no longer seasonal. We have strawberries from Kenya in February, cherries from Mexico in April, apples from New Zealand all year around.
Here in Kent, I wonder whether it is only asparagus and cob nuts that remain as only being available at certain times of the year.
And this is perhaps where we need to take a step back and focus again on the food we have. The food we grow, the food we buy, the food we cook, the food we eat. They are all gifts to us in one way or another. We cannot ‘make’ the raw ingredients. They grow from almost nothing.
Try and make an apple pie from a handful of pips and some wheat. It won’t work. We need something else, something deeper, something magical, something completely natural.
In his book ‘Nourishing Wisdom’, Marc David writes:
“Be there when you eat. Achieve the fullest experience of your food. Taste it. Savour it. Pay attention to it. Rejoice in it.”
Eating is a sacred act. It is a connection and affirmation of the live-giving nature of our planet.
And it is because of this sacredness, and its simple critical importance to our own continuation on this planet, that most religious traditions will begin a meal with a short prayer, a blessing, or, as we certainly called it when I was at school. Grace.
For what we are about the receive
May we be truly thankful.
Or, in the alternative known to so many more school children
For what we are about to receive,
May the Lord help us.
Saying Grace before a meal, giving thanks for our food, our health, our good fortune, is a vital part of our reconnection to the world and to our God
It’s a habit that is easy to start, and easy to continue. To pause, briefly, before we eat. To take a look at the food, to consider from whence it came. To remember and to be thankful.
I trained for Ministry at Harris Manchester College in Oxford. And one of the great privileges of that training and location was the ‘formal dinner’ each Wednesday evening. Full attendance, all in gowns. Top table for the Principal and his guests.
As you enter the Dining Hall, the Arlosh Hall, the smell of delicious food surrounds you from the kitchen. You make your way to the nearest empty chair, on the long bench tables. Standing with your fellow students, all new and close friends already. And you stand, waiting for the Hall to fill.
When all are assembled, a hammer is struck on a block.
And Grace is said.
Each week by a chosen student. And as a theologian studying for Ministry, I was chosen to give the grace on some of those occasions.
The first time came with no warning. The steward just came over with about two minutes to go and said ‘Daniel, would you say Grace tonight’
No preparation. Frozen with fear. Then a simple realisation.
We give thanks for the growers and farmers who provided our food
We give thanks for those who prepare our food so lovingly
We give thanks for the friends with whom we share this meal, and our lives
We give thanks,
Not the most sophisticated theological exploration. But it doesn’t need to be. It is a time to stop, take stock, to reconnect, to give thanks.
'AS YOU SOW, SO SHALL YOU REAP'
So we had Grace, we sat with an empty place – we sat with an unexpected visitor. And we ate. And it was good. Time now for that postprandial reflection.
As we have said already, Harvest is a time to reflect on the importance of food. The magic of growth, the value that can come from shared meals, shared reflections and shared stories, and shared lives.
It is from the way we approach things, the way in which we sow the seeds of our journeys, that will determine the depth of the Harvest.
And, as I mentioned at the start, we cannot expect the seeds we sow to grow without a little external help.
What do we need for a seed to grow?
If I had a seed in my hand, what would I need to do first, to help it grow?
And what will it need to grow?
(sun, water, care and attention)
So, our seed needs soil, and water, and food, and sunshine. And night. And some shelter. And then, and only then, might it grow and produce wonderful food for us to eat. From each tiny seed, we can have a vegetable, or vegetables, or fruits, or a nut tree or any number of different growing things.
There is magic in growth. I know it can all be explained by science, and that is good. It is helpful and useful to know how these things happen.
But, all the same, there is a magic to it.
Can you picture, in your mind, the amazing transformation that takes place in that seed – growing, stretching, emerging. And then you’re off. Growing to be thousands and thousands of times bigger than when you started.
Nature may be explainable. But it is still magic.
And it is so fragile. This great world in which we live. With the beauty of nature, and wonder of light, heat, darkness, dampness. It is so necessary to life, and so fragile too.
And we are part of this world, part of this magic. And we have it in our power to help it remain a magical place. We are able to help make and keep this planet beautiful.
For me, I want that commitment to keeping the world beautiful to become a part of my own nature. I want and hope that it is second-nature to me to treat this world and its inhabitants and its habitat with reverence, with care and with love.
As you sow, so shall you reap.
From Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Chapter 6. As you sow, so shall you reap. It means of course that the personal consequences of your actions are in proportion to the good or bad intentions towards others. Or, to put it more simply, if you are nice to other people, they are more likely to be nice to you. And, if you treat this planet with respect. If you do your best to avoid littering, polluting, and destroying the world, then the world will still be here for little while yet, helping you to grow your food and to eat your meals. And to be thankful.
And it can be seen in the real things we plant too. As part of their Summer Solstice celebrations this year, this gang here in front of us planted a special sunflower in the somewhat rough soil at the back of the church.
And it has grown. Despite poor soil, despite all the rain, and hardly any sun, the sun flower has grown. A beautiful, yellow shining face of a flower. So thank you to all of you, for sowing and nurturing. And allowing nature to do her magical thing.
As a congregation, as Sevenoaks Unitarians, we made a commitment to Fairtrade earlier this year. And that commitment is a way of acknowledging the need to treat other people, and to treat the natural world, with respect and with love.
From the Grace at the start of the meal – being thankful to God, or the Universe, or nature, for farmers, for nature, for food and for friends. Through the communal meal, a sharing of food, lives and love.
Bolstered and nourished we are ready to set out into the world once more. Ready to stand up to injustice, and ready to help heal this world.
May our Harvest be bountiful and inspiring.