March/Autumn in Australia
Matthew 6: 25 -26, 28-30
A Liturgy is also available
AUTUMN: THE SEASON OF LEAVES AND HARVEST...
Let me tell you a story.
It is Autumn. We are in a town, strange to us.
I open the window, then the shutters of our B & B guest room
to look out over the town.
A burst of biting air suggests there was a white frost during the night.
Over there, over the galvanised-iron roof tops, I see a church steeple.
It is Sunday.
We wrap up against the sharp morning air
and venture into the deserted streets.
We peer into back gardens that have been well prepared against the frost.
Apple trees have been picked clean.
Some plants have been hooded and blanketed against the cold.
It is cold and utterly quiet. Not a wind stirs
and no one in the town seems to be awake.
We round a corner and come upon a park,
a long terraced stretch which overlooks the roof tops
and has a view into the river valley.
It is a park with a row of benches interspersed with a long line of elm trees.
They are a blazing yellow - each leaf like a giant, drooping glove.
The yellow is so shocking we halt in our steps to stare.
In the utter stillness we hear only the noise of the leaves falling.
Plop. Plop. Plop-plop.
Up and down the row,
every tree is losing its leaves - right now in front of our eyes.
The trees are raining down their leaves with steady determination.
Was it the frost that caused this event?
Or the first rays of sun?
We stand in silence and watch.
Within half an hour we see a whole row of golden trees
turn utterly bare before our eyes.
Gaunt and grey, the empty branches reach at the sky.
At the foot of each tree is a perfect pile, yellow as sunlight.
A gift from the tree to its own roots.
By the time the townsfolk wake, autumn is over.
Human beings are the creatures who celebrate.
We dance, sing, feast, fast and dramatise
important moments and events in our lives.
Traditional festivals have ancient roots springing from
very early ideas of life, the world and the heavens.
Most annual Autumn celebrations originated from seasonal changes
in the lives of agricultural people.
“And they can be traced back through uncharted years to a time when human survival depended directly on natural events.” (Nickerson 1969:x)
These festivals are usually related to the movement of the earth, the sun or the moon,
“and the changes these movements made in the lives of human beings whose behaviour was said to be governed by them.” (Nickerson 1969:x)
Today, we celebrate Autumn. The season of leaves and harvest.
In Autumn, perhaps more so than at any other time of the year,
the interdependence of humans and the earth
comes into clear focus.
The garden’s excess has been turned under the earth one last time.
We gather in some extra cans of rich, thick, soup.
The wood pile has been stacked.
The oil tank filled or the gas inlet turned on.
We turn indoors to build home fires, to turn inward...
Reflecting on this season the Psalmist once wrote:
The earth has yielded its fruits; God, our God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear him. (Psalm 67)
While a Jewish scholar has said this about the season:
It should teach us two things:
First, that we should respect equality and abhor inequality - the one
being the source of justice, and the other of injustice.
Second, that we should be grateful to g-o-d for having caused the earth
to bring forth in abundance, for man and beast alike, not only for one
meal, but until the coming of the next crop - all as a result of
nature’s love for its creatures.
Well, so much for the past.
But what of modern, 21st century, city life?
With all our computers,
suburban shopping centres,
plastic credit cards and
packaged instant food...
How can we city folk celebrate Autumn
which is traditionally based on a country harvest festival?
I mean to say... City people buy their milk in a cardboard or plastic carton.
Country folk, less of them now I am told in media reports,
rise early to milk the cows.
City people visit the local supermarket to spend their earnings.
Country folk sell their stock at the local sale yards, to earn their income.
Of course this is an over simplification but perhaps
it can serve to show how
our religious celebrations, have changed, or need to change.
Do we, as 21st century city folk, have an Autumn festival to celebrate?
We certainly have the leaves (in NN)!
My answer is ‘yes!’ even if that response comes with two conditions:
• an ecological concern for our world must be taken with radical seriousness, and
• for the sake of future generations, our generation is called upon
to lament its self-indulgent ways.
When all the conditions are right, life,
That there is a reality that lures life forth and forward
and strives against the forces of inertia and death…
We can celebrate this.
When all the conditions are right, beauty,
truth and a
concern for others, is alive.
That there is a creativity which lures forth honesty and love
and strives against the retreat to merely habitual behaviour…
We can celebrate this.
And we can name this reality… this creativity, g-o-d.
May we never be satisfied to enjoy plenty so long as any other is hungry.
And may we be united with all people
in a blessing of giving and receiving...
In both the leaves and the harvest.
Nickerson, B. Celebrate the Sun. A Heritage of Festivals Interpreted through the Art of Children from Many Lands. Philadelphia. J B Lippincott Co., 1969.