03 August 2011 a post by Pauline Warner

Generous giving of the Harvest King

The wheel has turned.
Comes round the time of harvest.
Life, growth, death and rebirth
All have come full circle.
Springtime’s seeds sown,  grew green in May
and now explode in abundance.  Generous giving
of the Harvest King.

Lammas or Lughnasadh is the season of the First Fruits, the first cutting of the harvest grain. In pagan times that first sheaf of wheat was made into a Corn Dolly, the Earth Mother who presided over the coming harvest. In Christian times, it was made into a loaf of bread and thanks were offered to God for the harvest which was about to be gathered.

Let us honour both paths together by gathering wheat and making bread. You can do this in various ways, according to how much time you have, how near to cornfields you live and how much you want to bake.

First you need to bake bread…..if you really must you can buy but get a real loaf. As you bake it reflect on the mysterious way in which this food which will sustain life came out of the cutting down of the grain which once had stood tall and golden in the fields. Jesus said before his death that Unless a seed of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. If it dies it produces many seeds. (John 12.24).

Evelyn Underhill, a Christian poet, brilliantly sums up the mystery that ‘it is from the hand of death that we take our daily bread’ and calls it ‘the law of mystic death that works the mystic birth’. In her poem ‘Corpus Christi’, she sees the harvest fields as symbolic of the crucifixion of Jesus:

Torn by the sickles see him share the smart
of travailing creation maimed, despised
Yet by his lovers the more dearly prized
because for us he lays his beauty down –
Last toll paid by perfection for our loss
Trace on these fields his Everlasting Cross
And o’er the stricken sheaves
The Immortal Victor’s crown

Now, while the bread is proving, you will have plenty of time to gather a handful of golden grain. Best glean it from the edge of the field – it saves enraging the farmer and, in any case, it fits the symbolism of the Book of Ruth which we are going to use. Again, making a corn dolly can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. If you want to be complicated there are books and websites to inspire you. If you want to keep it simple –  tie a piece of wool round the handful of grain just below the top of the stems so that you form the head of the doll. It works best with barley -  gives her longer hair! Then run a few stems horizontally to form arms – and you have one corn dolly which can be dressed and decorated. If you really cannot get near to a field of cereal, then use long grass or even paper straws.

corn dolly

Corn dollies were also known as The Maiden or Bride of the Corn, an aspect of the stories of the goddess Bride and St Bridget of Kildare.

By now the dough should require some knocking back and kneading………go and do that and then while it is proving for the second time…….

Read the story of Ruth from the Bible. It is a beautiful love story set in Bethlehem (which means House of Bread) at the barley and wheat season.

Death came to Ruth in many different ways. Her husband died along with his father and brother. She died to her past life when she left her homeland of Moab and willingly embraced a new life with her mother-in-law Naomi.  She risked being stoned to death when, as a single woman, she went to Boaz at the threshing floor. Death is woven into Ruth’s story. But from those deaths, new life and love sprang up anew just as wheat will spring up again in the next season of growing.

Something to ponder in the final kneading and shaping of the bread. By the way, it would be good to mark the sign of the cross on top:

What have been the deaths in your life?  The death of loved ones, of disappointed hopes, loss of job……..which caused you to change direction?.....when have you felt vulnerable and at risk?.......when have you known new life to rise out of death?

And as the dough is being baked:

Prepare the Harvest Bride by dressing her in white cloth. You can sew two pieces of cloth together or simply drape some cloth or paper over her neck. Ruth is sometimes called The Barley Bride and her preparation to go to Boaz (Ruth 3.3) compared to the Bride of Christ prepared for her Husband (Revelation 21.2). The thing is, barley is prepared by being winnowed, lifted up so that the wind can blow through it and separate the good grain from the chaff. The Wind of God, the Holy Spirit, blows through his followers and thus blows away in us all that is not wholesome. So the Bride of Christ is made ready and , like her Husband-Redeemer Christ,  is prepared to give herself away in love that others may be fed.   

And there you have them both –The Lord of the Harvest, Jesus, who gives himself to us as the Bread of Life and his Bride, prepared by the Spirit to bear new life and hope for the future.

Use them as the centrepieces for your Lammas table – surround them with some of the harvest fruits and vegetables which are already ripe. Prepare from that harvest a Lammas meal to celebrate these first fruits. It was from the ancient ceremony of First Fruits that giving a tenth of our income away (tithing) derives.  Maybe, remembering the famine experience of Ruth and Naomi and the teaching of Jesus about the poor, it would make an even better Lammas celebration if we ate a little ourselves and then give ten times more to Oxfam, Christian Aid, Cafod or any development agency.

A LAMMAS PRAYER

Lord of the Harvest, we give you thanks for your generosity by which we live,
the fruitfulness of land and sea which gives our daily food
and your generous love to us which gives our spiritual food.
Let the wind of your Spirit winnow through us that we might be prepared
to share in your generosity
and live more simply that more may simply live.
Through your cross from whence sprang resurrection life, we pray, Amen

                                               
Did you know that the best known folk song of Harvest, ‘John Barleycorn must die’ goes to the same tune as ‘We plough the fields and scatter’?  Find them both and put them together. They just about fit! LAMMAS BLESSINGS

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