Saturday, 26 September 2015

Harvest: Wisdom to Know the Difference

“Harvest” is a time for reaping, but it is also a time for reflection; “Harvest” is a time just before Autumn sets in and all around us slows down; “Harvest is a time to gather in all that has occurred in our lives; “Harvest” is a time to feast on the good and perhaps chuck out what is of no use.

We will, before we are probably aware of it, soon enter into the winter of the year. Let us hope we have gathered enough to see us through the darkness of winter; let us hope we have planted enough, and cared for what we have planted, so that our harvest will be plentiful, that it will leave us fulfilled.

It is said that we reap what we so, but I'm not sure this is entirely true. There are after all other forces at work. We cannot control every element of life; there are powers at work other than our own. Sometimes everything can be destroyed, can be blown away by forces way beyond ourselves. This can lead us to believe that all is lost, but this is not necessarily so. We can begin again at any time. Seeds can begin to grow again, even after utter devastation.

“Harvest” is a time to reflect on what has been and to plan for times ahead. How is your harvest this year? Have the seeds you planted failed to grow? Are you been left with a bad harvest? Is this because you have not nurtured and cared for your crop as you should have or is it due to forces way beyond your control? Either way do not despair, hope springs eternal, even in the Autumn and the winter. There is always time for new beginnings. Let’s gather in the harvests of our lives and lets offer thanks and praise for all that we have been given, even if it’s a hard lesson, let’s give thanks for the lesson.

For tomorrow is another day and we can begin again in love.

I recently came across the following meditation "The Wisdom to Know the Difference" by Sarah York, it really touched me as I reflected on some of the people I serve and how they live with growing older...

“The Wisdom to Know the Difference” by Sarah York

My colleague Harry Meserve described as a pleasant surprise of advancing years the discovery of areas of knowledge, activity, and enjoyment that he had never before had time for or even considered. “This discovery,” he writes, “reminds one that no matter how distinguished, competent, and successful we may have been…we are now as little children who must be taught from the start how to make our way in other fields of knowledge and activity. Such experience is good for the soul.”

Aging is a lifelong process of adjustment to change. The people who age the best are those who are granted serenity – as the famous prayer puts it – the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Getting older is one of those things that cannot be changed. The losses are different for different people. Sometimes the loss means giving up possessions to move to a smaller home, or giving up independence to move in with a family member. Or it may be the loss of physical abilities – hearing, walking, seeing. Gradually, age reminds us that we can’t do things we used to do. Age forces us to redefine ourselves in terms of what we can do. It is an art to be able to grow through the losses and accept the process without giving in to a spirit of decline.

Aging is a process of growth, not of decline. I admire people who age well more than those who remain youthful. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, for both may appear vital and alert. But one avoids the realities of the autumn season of life by pretending that it’s still summer, while the other enjoys the brilliant colours.

...I love the final paragraph, especially the short sentence that opens it, "Aging is a process of growth, not of decline.". It also got me thinking about "The Serenity Prayer" in relation to "Harvest"...

The word Harvest is derived from the Anglo-Saxon haerfest, meaning “Autumn”. Autumn is always the reflective season. A time to gather in all that our lives have produced and then to separate what is of no use, to let it go and to store up what is of good use. It also got me thinking of the following parable from Matthew's Gospel Ch 13 vv 24 - 30

24 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” 28He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” 29But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

This parable got me thinking about what "Harvest" is really about and I believe it is two very important things. "Harvest is about storing up what is of value and good to us and offering thanks and praise for this and letting go of what is not. This time of year is very much about preparing for the future, making best use of what we gather in but also about acknowledging the power of letting go of what is not. For by doing so we are making room for more of what is of good use.

Now of course not everything can simply be let go of, life just isn’t like that. There are aspects of our lives and who we are as people that no matter how much we may wish them away will always remain. That said how we live with them will make all the difference. In fact we may even be able to make good use of these perceived problems. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to adopt a different attitude towards these problems in our lives; sometimes this is all that we need to do.

Now isn't this the wisdom of "The Serenity Prayer” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference”

The “Serenity Prayer” is one of the great prayers, simple, practical and beautifully universal. It speaks powerfully to the heart and soul of so many people and has been doing so ever since it was first written by Reinhold Niebhur in the 1930’s. I even got into a conversation about it in a remote village in Transylvania when I went on a trip there a few years.

Several years ago I visited Unitarians in Transylvania. One day I visited a small community a village called Icland - there is no other settlement in the region whose name ends in land, the story goes that it was originally settled by people from Ireland or England – I walked up the hill towards the parish house and settled into a little schoolroom with a few adults and two teenage girls. For some reason I had images of Thomas Hardy or even Dickens in my mind as I walked up to the house and looked at the village. None of the houses had running water, everyone had a well. The minister led a short religious education class and I was deeply moved by the conversation which she translated for me. It was a conversation about struggles with the current economic climate and the importance of letting go of control and not becoming blocked off from God. The words of the serenity prayer came to my mind as we spoke “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference” – if only we could all find that wisdom to know the difference. I mentioned this and then a few moments later one of the women present produced a copy of the prayer from her purse. We then continued with the conversation which was one of the most beautifully moving and connective ones I have ever had. We spoke deep into one another's hearts. I left these people knowing I will probably never see them again, but also knowing that this conversation would be etched on my soul for a long time to come. During the conversation I had felt the presence of the spirit that I call God powerfully. I can picture the woman Elizabeth in my mind’s eye as she talked openly and eloquently of her struggles with life and faith. I can picture her now.

The key to this time of year and every time of year is in finding the wisdom to know the difference. The key to this of course is discernment. We need to be able to discern, to sift out, what needs to be let go of, what needs to be accepted and what needs to change either internally or externally for this to happen.

Now the word discernment comes from the Latin “discernere” which means to separate, to distinguish, to sort out. Just think of prospectors panning for gold or sifting through rocks and dirt in search of gem stones. They are separating, they are sorting through the muck for what is precious, they are distinguishing, they are discerning.

Discernment is the key to more fruitful harvests in our future. We need to discover what is of value and what needs to be discarded from our hearts, our minds and our lives. We need to do this in order to live fully and experience all that life has to offer. We need to discard the dirt and muck in order to discover all that is precious in life; we need to do this in order to be fully aware not only of our own lives, but the lives of those around us.

So how do we clear our minds so that we can discern, so that we can sift through the muck of life? Well I believe that we need to create space and we need silence. Our lives, our minds are so full of stuff that it is really difficult to discern what is right and healthy sometimes. This makes it difficult to make wise choices about life. In order to make those wise decisions we need to be still, we need to be silent, we need to connect to our bodies, to our breathing. We need to prepare ourselves for what life has to offer us. If we do we may just hear that still small voice of calm; that voice that is less than a whisper and yet so much more than silence. That voice that will grant us the wisdom to know the difference.

I will end this little chip of a blog with following “Autumns Arrival” by the late Simon John Barlow.
"Autumn's Arrival"

The chill in the air of mists and rain,
The grey and blue of sky meeting the reds and golds of leaves
Announce that autumn has arrived.
A feast for the seasons.
The fruit-laden branches of tree and the berry festooned bushes,
The bare fields now reaped of grain and vegetables,
Announce that harvest has arrived –
A feast for the body.
But what of the feast of the soul?
What have we gathered from our lives?
What of the harvest of experience?
The words of Julian of Norwich remind us that
“Peace and love are always alive in us,
but we are not always alive to peace and love”.
And so beloved,
In this season of ingathering and feasting, let us remember
The harvest for the senses,
The harvest for the body,
And the harvest of the soul
- lessons learned, peace sensed and love felt –
- the ingathering of Commonwealth of God.
God of Creation,
We give thanks for the bounty of our harvest of senses, body and soul
We hold in compassion those whose harvest is not yet ready,
Or seems too difficult to reap:
Guide us to use our blessings to bring a brighter harvest for all beings:
And grant us the wisdom to be alive to the harvest of peace and love.

Simon J Barlow

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