Harvest thanksgiving is particularly special this year. Even those of us who wouldn’t claim to have green fingers have been spending more time out in our gardens and open spaces this past six months, and even growing vegetables and fruit, albeit because of coronavirus restrictions. I have felt such delight and even awe, watching our small tomatoes grow, turning gently from green to red, and the courgettes slowly expanding. I appreciate more now the fertility of soil, the matrix of all agriculture, and the activity of earthworms. I love that quote from eco-theolgogian Thomas Berry, that “gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the Universe.”
Our prolific little damson tree gifted us a bumper crop this year – the green cockatoos, prolific in West London, loved them and literally dived into the tree each morning for a beak full of sweet damson. Apples are currently ready to drop from our apple trees, but there aren’t so many this year, perhaps because it has been so dry. I am noticing rainfall patterns more than I used to.
This year I have been more aware of the cycle of the seasons and the joys of Autumn and the harvest. The leaves are beginning to fall off the trees and squirrels are scurrying around after acorns. Who knew yellow pumpkin flowers were so beautiful and vibrant? The bees do; they were out bathing in the pollen early this morning. Actually, one was trapped in a spider’s web and had to be released with a twig – we need every one of our pollinators.
Too often, we have taken the gifts of the natural world for granted. Yet, if we are more sensitive to the fruitfulness of Planet Earth at this time, let us remember that many families around the world face chronic food shortages and malnutrition as a result of extreme weather, poverty and conflict, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. CAFOD’s Family Fast Day on Friday 9 October reminds us of this and gives an opportunity to support the poorest and most vulnerable people. It should also prompt us to check that our investments and pension funds are not funding oil and gas companies which pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that affect climate stability and the livelihoods of farmers! All things are connected say indigenous people, and Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical ‘Laudato Si’.
St Columban once said, “To know the Creation is to know the Creator.” This has inspired our Columban Creation Covenant which inspires our mission to care for Creation and to bring themes of environmental justice into education work, homilies and sacramental ministry. Columbans in the global south support organic farms, tree-planting initiatives, wormeries and advocacy to protect the marine environment. All this is necessary to help ensure our future harvests and food today for poor communities everywhere who live very directly off the land, rivers and seas.
Over the coming weeks we will see displays of nature’s gifts in our churches, and harvest hymns making their annual appearance. We can lose sight of God’s goodness all too easily and the Church nudges us to remember. The seasons come and go, crops are sown and harvested, yet we can forget the Creator God who gives life to the seed, who sends the heat and rain, who has provided the biodiversity in forests. Harvest thanksgiving provides us with an opportunity to reflect on this.
Harvest underlines for us – especially in an urban context – that we are not disconnected from the natural world. However much many people rely on ready-made meals and takeaways, all of us depend on the cycles of planting, growth and gathering, with each stage involving its particular combinations of human endeavour, patience and dependence on conditions outside of our control. Theologically, we’re reminded that nothing grows without the seed that falls into the earth and dies so that it might yield a rich harvest.