Harvest thanksgiving Arthur Middleton
When I was five, I remember a significant moment. It was a summer Saturday afternoon and I was standing in the street, anticipating my mother s news that we were to have the first tomatoes of the season for tea. At this time, the fruits of the earth could only be eaten in their appointed season; the absence of tomatoes for the most of the year made their in-season flavour all the more rich, tasty and significant. Today, their availability throughout the year has destroyed any sense of wonder and relish and can destroy our sense of the balance of nature, the rhythm of the seasons.
This hit me forcibly in Australia, where I saw daffodils growing in August. The same rhythm of natures season is there, but the timing is in reverse to ours, so that while we are harvesting, they are now sowing. The availability of seasonal fruits in every season can make us blind and deaf to the rhythm of nature because it destroys the faculty of wonder.
This is a far cry from the experience of the seventeenth-century mystical poet, Thomas Traherne. He wrote, ‘The corn was orient and immortal which never should be reaped nor was ever sown… Eternity was manifest in the Light of Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared, which talked with my expectation and moved my desire.’
Trahernes meditations delight with joy in the things of creation, the rhythm of nature and its seasons because he sees in them intimations of eternity. In spite of the unseasonableness of the food chain, there is still the rhythm of the seasons which we can never destroy. We must not allow it to destroy our roots in nature, because, if we stop and look, we allow the things of nature to lead us into communion with something vaster, something infinite.
Life through death
Think of the caterpillar. It begins life from an egg in the restricted world of the cabbage leaf. Yet it has within it the potential to become, through the chrysalization of death, the more beautiful creature of the butterfly, there to live in a much larger world, taking with it all it has been as a caterpillar. There in the natural world of finite things is the intimation of something infinite. That is why we must not lose our roots in the natural world. Harvest thanksgiving reminds us of seedtime and harvest, the rhythm of nature. The caterpillar and the butterfly show us something of death and resurrection. The corn has within it the potential to become bread and, in the Eucharistic Prayer, the bread is given the potential to become the carrier of a real presence of divine life.
All these things express something universally found in human history, because it is part of the very stuff of humanity as we know it. A yearning for life, for rebirth, for liberation into a greater mode of existence – a yearning which recognizes that in some way life must be sought in death, the light must be found in darkness. The sun dies in the evening and goes down into the waters of the sea, to be born again when the night is over; the winter darkness succeeds the autumn, the ‘fall’, and the year dies to be born again in the spring.