Down here for a fortnight rest and writing – so ideal – visits before have been too short for letting oneself go to its atmosphere. The harvest is just in, and thank God a good one. The land is a vision of beauty in the care of its shibble fields and the old rose and mauve of its distances. The riverbed is a very garden of the Lord in its clusters of oleander in full flower – from the faintest blush-white to deep carmine buds and every intervening shade of rose colour nestled in their sword like leaves. Better, in the eternal light than the earthly harvest-time, is that the first grains from the heavenly storehouse are being steadily dropped now into the furrows. 15 June 1916
Granddaughter Kiersten, several years ago (when she was much younger and less wise), queried after table grace, “Why are you thanking God for this meal?”
Her mother answered, “Because He provided the food.”
“He didn’t give us this food,” Kiersten responded, “We bought it from the grocery store!”
Our Thanksgiving Feast – an embarrassment of culinary excess (and delight) is now a memory and/or left-overs in tightly sealed containers in the refrigerator. And Kiersten’s query is just a bit too close to home to scoff or dismiss. Fact is, there is quite a distance from the source of the bounty – Idaho potatoes, Washington onions, Cape Cod cranberries, Kansas wheat – and the neatly sealed and labeled containers that line the shelves of our local grocery store.
Harvest time. Early settlers in the “new world” celebrated the harvest of a successful crop and stored the bounty hoping it would carry them through a long lean winter. They knew only too well the threats to their sustenance – drought, flood, freeze, insects – and all other forms of danger. The first feasts celebrating a harvest “safely gathered in” evolved, over time, into a national Day of Thanksgiving. President Abraham Lincoln, prompted by a series of editorials by Sarah Hale, authorized the document penned by Secretary of State William Steward: “The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
His rationale for taking time to consider our blessings “which are so constantly enjoyed” sum the sentiment and concerns of centuries past – and of today: “. . . we are prone to forget the source from which they come.”
Would it be different if we lived closer to the source of our bounty? My mother, who was raised on a Michigan farm, wrote her memoirs when she was in her 90’s, to “pass on to her progeny knowledge of a much different way of living.” She told stories of battling the elements then savoring the spoils: apples kept cool in the basement, cans of fruit lining shelves, wheat stored in sacks to be ground into flour from whence came all manner of treats baked in a wood-fueled stove. Harvest was a communal celebration of thankful hearts:
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in ,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.”
In the summer of 1916, Lilias visited Bon Hanifa, in the western region of Algeria, where she rested and wrote for a fortnight. Five years previous, she had sought and bought this plot of land with the aim of it becoming an industrial farm where inquirers and converts, alike, could find a living and a community of faith. Now, she rejoiced in the bounty and beauty of harvest time – a successful yield, a good year. Even more, her heart gloried in the anticipation of a spiritual harvest: “the first grains from the heavenly storehouse” that were “being steadily dropped now into the furrows.”
Physical or spiritual, a bountiful harvest is a collaboration between God and human kind. We plow, we plant, we gather – soil of earth or heart – but it is God who feeds and waters through nature and His Spirit. So easy to forget whenever we distance ourselves – or are distanced inadvertently – from The Source. Let us embrace a celebration of Thanksgiving – on a day designated for the same – forgetful creatures that we are. But let that remind us to raise our hearts and voices in thanksgiving each and every day – remembering the source from which our blessings come – now and eternally.
Even so, Lord, quickly come
Bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin.
There, forever purified,
In Thy presence to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.
Painting: Diary 1907