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Reflections on Rogation Days

Note: Below is a beautiful reflection on Rogation Days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week) by our assisting priest, the Rev. David Griffin. If you are a gardener like David, one simple way to observe these days is by blessing your garden. Our church tradition includes a simple Blessing for a Garden liturgy for Rogation Days. No priest is required! The liturgy is included after David's words below and available to download as a PDF.


In light of Rogation Days, I’d like to share a few thoughts inspired by a new approach I’ve taken to gardening. I’ve learned to identify the most beneficial plants that pop up spontaneously, plants I formerly called “weeds,” and leave these to grow while I pull other things. These are generally plants that are indigenous to where I live in Northern Virginia. Our local insects and wildlife are adapted to these plants, so they are critical pillars of the local food web. I treasure these wildflowers more than any of the flora I plant myself. Last spring, two clusters of New England aster emerged in perfect symmetry on both sides of my front steps. Later in the summer, I realized great blue lobelia was growing wild in the same flower bed. I had neither planted nor nurtured these pollinator favorites that also happened to fit my color scheme. These little green and blue visitors came unbidden to my house, and I was delighted to host them.

You might call this approach “gardening by grace.” The traditional tending of a landscape is very linear labor: the output of one’s cultivated land is generally equal to (or slightly less than) the amount of work that went into it. Gardening by grace, on the other hand, relies entirely on the free gifts of God in nature. Even the water is free: these plants are adapted to thrive on rainwater alone. There is still work involved, but it is the work of receiving and preparing to receive again in the future. I must say yes to this plant, no to that plant, and weed accordingly.


I can’t help but think back to Deuteronomy’s description of God’s grace to the people of Israel. God was bringing His people into a land full of “hewn cisterns you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (Deut. 6:10-11). Moses is warning the Israelites to remember the LORD who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt and is bringing them into the promised land, a land whose bounty comes completely free of charge. While at first glance this abundance comes from conquest, there are good reasons to understand it according to a more figurative sense.[1] The claim being made is in the first place theological: God’s people cannot claim they did any of this work themselves. He anticipates the ease with which pride could (and would) soon overtake thanksgiving, causing them to forget the LORD their God and all He has done to save the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Never forget, Moses warns: you didn’t build any of this.


Emerging work in the field of anthropology suggests that humans once “gardened by grace” in pre-agricultural societies, which was their entire way of life. In Work: A Deep History, James Suzmann argues that his work with modern hunter-gatherer tribes, along with evidence from the archeological record, suggests that human societies can and have sustained themselves with each individual contributing an average of twenty hours of work per week. They live, indeed thrive, by collecting only what the local ecosystem produces. Those communities that have survived into the twentieth century and beyond are, by all measures, among the happiest on earth. One has to question the tacit assumption that Jesus was exaggerating when he urged his followers to worry about food and clothing no more than the lilies of the field or the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap, yet their Heavenly Father provides for them all (Matt. 6:25-34).

Indeed, God has always provided abundantly through the world He created. It is true that God designed humanity to do work in the Garden. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But also, the verse that follows makes clear that humanity’s food is a free gift from God: “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden’” (except for that one tree…). This abundance means that there are no grounds in the created order for conflict over resources. When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, it often comes from a fear of scarcity: real, perceived, or imagined. Which is not to say nobody experiences scarcity. Indeed it affects hundreds of millions of people, at home or abroad. But at this point in our history, scarcity appears to be almost entirely manmade–a problem of distribution, not production.

In the Anglican tradition, Rogation Days have historically been a time of prayer for the successful sowing, growing, and harvesting of crops, and in recent years for the success of people’s work more broadly. What should our prayers look like when we incline our hearts toward God’s abundant provision in the creation, rather than fear of scarcity? What does one who gardens by grace ask for?


First, let us pray for eyes of faith that we may see the provident hand of God in all things, and for a spirit of openness to receive from Him with thanksgiving. Second, let us not presume upon God’s grace, and pray that God continue to bless the work of our hands, whether that is with a bountiful harvest or a successful project completed on the job. Third, let us pray for the just and equitable distribution of food and the other necessities of life for everyone, everywhere, and for the success of the institutions charged with this work. Fourth and finally, pray for those overburdened with work in this world where, against conventional wisdom, people could be better fed for less work.


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[1] Among other things that commend a figural reading of the Canaanite conquest: (1) There are conflicting descriptions of the conquest of Canaan, especially between the books of Joshua and Judges. (2) One would expect such large-scale destruction to leave a footprint in the archeological record, but to date, none has been found. (3) The earliest Christian interpreters of scripture, the “Church Fathers,” often read these texts spiritually, usually as being about spiritual combat against sin and demonic forces.



- David Griffin



 


Prayers for Rogation Days: A Rite for the Blessing of a Garden

(click below to download as a PDF)

Blessing a Garden
.pdf
Download PDF • 102KB




Presider Blessed be the God of all creation: People For in your goodness you make all things new. Presider The Lord be with you.

People And also with you. Presider Let us pray.

Gracious God, you open wide your hand and give of your goodness to all things living: Renew the face of the earth and increase the sustainable harvests of the world, that the land may bring forth enough for all, and your people may share justly and give honor to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Presider or other appointed leaders may then lead the People in prayer, using one or more of the following collects, as appropriate.

Lover of all you have made: Protect and sustain the creatures of our local habitat. Increase their well- being, watch over them with love, and give us wisdom to honor our kinship with them; through Jesus Christ, the first- born of all creation. Amen.

God, whose Spirit moved over the deep: We thank you for the gift of water. Bless the waters on the ground and under the ground, and the waters that fall from the sky, that this garden may flourish and bear good fruit; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

God, who alone provides seed for the sower and bread for the eater, you have taught us to ask of you our daily bread: Bless the sowing of the seed this year, grant fertility to the soil, and strengthen the hands of the gardeners who till it, that through their labor your people may be nourished; through Jesus Christ, the bread of life. Amen.

Holy God, you have blessed our plowing and preparing of the ground: Protect what we plant in your name, and grant that working late and early, we and others may enjoy a fruitful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Holy God, you have blessed our plowing and preparing of the ground: Protect what we plant and bring it to maturity, that we and others may enjoy a fruitful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Sustainer. Amen.

The Presider and People then say

Holy One: Bless and protect this garden and all who keep it. Strengthen and uphold them in their labor, that these plants may bear good fruit and our care for the earth may witness to your love and justice;

in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

The Presider may dismiss the People with these words


Presider Let us bless the Lord. People Thanks be to God.

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