Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Very Personal Rogationtide

A Rogation Cross on Rural Farmland

The Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day form a short “season-within-a-season” in Easter: Rogationtide. These days originated many centuries ago as part of the agricultural cycle in the liturgical year—feasts and fasts connected to seed-time, growing-season, and harvest.

Unlike our modern American era, where children think food is just another industrial product (which, sadly, it often is), our forebears knew that food is both a vital and a risky thing. Among the dangers were drought, plagues, pestilence, fire, hail, flood...the list was endless. The Rogation days meant going into the fields themselves and praying for the upcoming months of growth and harvest. It meant being very clear about our dependence on God for our most basic needs.

Today, people can think of their food as simply “there,” a kind of public utility with no inherent connection to the earth. But then there are things which change that.

When I was in college, I had the good fortune to spend a semester abroad in England. In addition to learning much and deepening my faith in God, I met my wife-to-be. It was a blessed time.

And yet…

Some years later we heard about the horrors of “Mad Cow disease,” and then of a human form of that illness…variant Jakob-Creutzfeldt Disease. It was all very horrifying. We learned that this ghastly, debilitating breakdown of the brain was the result of feeding cows (herbivores) foods derived from the carcasses of cattle and other livestock. A basic rule in nature (herbivores should not be fed meat—especially the brains of other herbivores) had been violated with incalculable consequences for many.

At this point, you might be saying something like “that’s horrible to hear about, but why are you so upset about it still?” The answer would be that I was in England during the period when the infected meat products were being sold and consumed. For all I know, I was exposed. Because of this, I cannot give blood any longer (even though I have a somewhat rare type), and I cannot be sure if I will develop this frightening disease myself (there is no test, and the incubation time is unknown). I live with a fear in the back of my mind about this…all because of the greed and folly of a culture so disconnected from nature that it could ignore its revealed wisdom.

To cap it all off, the most recent lectionary of the Episcopal Church has determinedly removed almost every possible reference to the venerable tradition of Rogationtide just as the need for it in our liturgical life has become so clear.

So, while Earth Day is promoted by some in the Church and others are bent on adding a politically preachy “Creation Season” to the calendar, the very practical and down-to-earth (literally) customs of Holy Church are forgotten.

At St. Timothy’s, though, it is the parish custom to keep Rogationtide. We value the connection between earth and altar, between human ethics and the “other book of scripture” God left us—the Creation. If we were looking at our industry, science, and economy through this lens in the first place, perhaps my haunting about Jakob-Creutzfeldt Disease—and so many other maladies caused by human actions—would not exist.

Keeping Rogation Sunday at St. Timothy’s means, in practical terms, this: After the main liturgy, we will have a formal procession out the doors to “beat the bounds” of the parish grounds. This entails singing the Great Litany (with Rogation petitions added), going to markers at the corners of the property, offering prayers for various concerns common to our neighborhood and community life (with children in the parish “beating” the markers with pool noodles while we use verse 1 of Ps. 68 and ask God’s protection!), planting a tree or bush, blessing the Community Garden on the parish’s property, and finally blessing and distributing rogation crosses made by a parishioner. These crosses are then taken by parishioners to their own gardens and farmlands to be visible signs of the holiness of Creation and our constant intercession for a just, good and safe harvest.

None of this is done because it is “quaint.” It is entirely the result of one thing: a call to know Christ in every aspect of our life, receiving in gratitude and offering in joy to our God. Perhaps the Church will see fit to review its estimable tradition and renew its commitment to Rogationtide as an act of justice, spiritual integrity, and moral leadership. If we do not, there will be an increasing number of us who will feel the results of turning a blind eye to the misuse of the Creation over which we were set as stewards.

Some Rogation Prayers:

I. For fruitful seasons

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II. For commerce and industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

III. For stewardship of creation

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

IV. For all who farm the earth

Eternal God, creator and sustainer of life, we praise you for the beauty and fertility of the earth. We praise you also for its complexity and mystery, before which we bow in wonder and awe. Bless all farmers everywhere upon whom we depend for the production and provision of our food, bless the management of the countryside and the husbanding of its resources.  Amen.

For more on this subject (from a Church of England source), you may want to go here.

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