A Harvest Inquisition

Is what we are doing life giving? Now this might seem a bit like the Spanish Inquisition, well I hope not a real one but perhaps a Monty Python one. Of course no-body expects the spanish inquisition, especially in a sermon, but their chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear, are their two chief weapons which you are now about to experience as, I’m going to ask you, to participate in the sermon. Surprise and fear, that you might be asked a question… well two questions… a number of questions. (I’ll come in again!) From where did these fruits and vegetables come? Were you expecting that question? No. You see, surprise, and fear… Yes, these fruits and vegetables came from supermarkets and greengrocers, (if there are any of those left) and perhaps one or two might have come from our gardens. Apples come from trees, potatoes grew under the ground, beans grew on their runners. etc etc. But it is not our natural disposition, at least it isn’t for the majority, to think in this way. Our connection with land is diminishing. We have invented ever more ingenious ways of not getting our hands ‘dirty.’ We even call the earth dirt, as if it is contaminating. Yet all our food relies on its goodness and nutrient. Most of our carrots and other root vegetables are polished and cleansed so that there is no trace of soil at all. They might even come in a bag ready chopped for the pan so that the actual vegetable itself is far removed from what we take home. I’d like to suggest that we need to return to the earth. Well, we will eventually, Earth to Earth Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust. It is not really a strange thought at all that we have come from the earth and to the earth we will return. So too should the earth be part of our journey along the way. It has become so hard for us to call the earth our Brother and Sister as Francis did so easily. We have become divorced from her in our food production, the main way in which we once had so much connection with the earth. I’d like to offer you an image, a Franciscan Image and a Harvest Image. (So that’s two images.) And with these images suggest that it might help us both spiritually and physically to return to the earth to attempt to live by the example of one of them, (if not the reality,) the one which resonates with our Gospel reading. The first Image is a field of wheat or field of corn or oats or barley. Not a bad image for a Harvest time. However, think about that image for a moment. Where does the energy come from to grow the wheat, barley, corn or oats as we might see them? The energy, by and large comes from outside the natural system. Ploughing, harrowing, planting, fertilising, all require energy that has been brought in. The Sun and the rain do their bit – granted, but in order to have a crop that can be cut and processed a huge amount of energy is drawn from outside the field itself. Our simple daily bread is not really so simple at all. The second image is that of a hedgerow. The hedgerow sits there all year without any energy from us and still it produces a crop. Year after year it produces elderflower or berry, blackberry, sloes, hedge and wild garlic, hazelnuts, damsons or bullaces, wild plums, crab apples. Now take an acre of arable field and an acre of hedgerow. Which do you think is the most productive and efficient method of producing food? It is of course natures own way – the hedgerow. What we eat and how we choose to eat it demands that we are inefficient. Contrast that with our reading from the Gospel today – ‘Do not worry about what you will eat or drink.’ More questions, from Alastair McIntosh, Scottish Theologian. “Is what I’m doing now feeding the hungry?”, “Is it relevant to the poor or to the broken in nature?”, “Does it contribute to understanding and meaningfulness?” And the central spiritual question, “Does it give life?” When we come to our harvest thanksgiving each year I rather wonder if we have lost sight of these questions concerning connection with our food and the land. For us here in Wales it should be easier than anywhere to make these connections. Thinking in terms of hedgerows rather than fields can help us be regenerative, requiring much less energy, following the patterns of nature. When we give thanks each harvest, our focus should be, not just on the end product, but the whole picture which might bring us back into connection with the land, with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother earth and ultimately with God. Our spiritual resurgence could be, literally, beneath our feet. Is what we are doing giving life?