So we are a little more than six months post-Sandy, and since it is still and will be for some time the main concern in our diocese and of my old friends, I get updated a lot. As I sat the other day through yet another presentation on the damage and aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it of course dredged up memories of storms past, memories of my Midwestern cousins talking about tornadoes, the stories of great danger I’ve been privileged to hear from the farmers that surround Bordentown.
It can be easy for city folk like me to sentimentalize the world, to forget that so many our fellow humans live in a world in which life is a lot more dangerous than I have it. On a daily basis, I worry more about stepping in dog poo on the way to get coffee than I do about having an arm taken off by a farm implement, but in the history of mankind, the latter is a too common way to go.
We sentimentalize nature as well, gazing at truck commercials that make me crazy wanting to be a farmer, or maybe just to drive a truck. We love “the beauty of snow, the smell of cedar, the glories of flowers — but in an instant, the veneer of civilization we’ve built to keep nature under control so we can enjoy her without suffering at her hand can be swept away. Ash and fire raining down from great volcanoes, waters bursting through levees, mountainous tidal waves destroying miles of coastland and entire villages, meteors hurling to earth, tornadoes and hurricanes sweeping away all in their paths, droughts, floods, fires that rampage through forests and towns, avalanches of rocks or snow, killer plagues, the very earth shaking off human life and opening up beneath our feet, cataclysmic events forming mountains and islands, animals that prey on humans, lightning strikes — these, too, are a part of the natural world.”1
I’ve heard it said that the real thing that separates us from the animals is how much better we are at climate control. The natural world has always been a friend and a foe, which is why we do things like build screened-in porches. It’s also why the Church gives us what is called Rogation Days (this is Rogation Sunday). “”Rogation” comes from the Latin “rogare,” which means “to ask,” and “Rogation Days” are days during which we seek to ask God’s mercy, appease His anger, avert His chastisements manifest through natural disasters, and ask for His blessings, particularly with regard to farming, gardening, and other agricultural pursuits.”2 “Originally an agricultural observance, it has been broadened and made more inclusive—the crops, the catch of the sea, the fruits of our labors in all their aspects. An ancient pagan custom was “beating the bounds”, with a procession walking out the boundary lines of the village and marking the bounds with stakes. Sticks of willow and birch were used to strike the stakes; hence, “beating the bounds”. Subsequently the custom became incorporated into Rogation Days celebration, particularly in England, in which the parishes are clearly defined, contiguous with adjacent parishes. Rogation Day was celebrated by walking the boundaries of the parish and acknowledging in this way our tangible stewardship. As the countries, including our own, became more industrialized and less agrarian, we have seen a lessening of the celebration of Rogation—and we are the worse for it. Our “new” Episcopal Book of Common Prayer of 1979 sneakily de-emphasized Rogation Days and Rogation Sunday, as they were annotated in the 1928 BCP. They are privileged times to celebrate stewardship, to remind ourselves of our roles, not as masters or owners, but as stewards.”3
Christ Church, never a place to worry about de-emphasization, still symbolically beats the bounds; tonight we will chant the Litany of the Saints in procession around the church and our grounds, we will bless the implements used in our efforts in gardening and the care of creation, and I will make my rounds to several local farms to bless their equipment.
Use these Rogation Days, today until Wednesday, to remember and pray for those who depend so deeply on what the earth yields, for those who seek to preserve the beauty of creation, and especially for those who, from the dangers of the natural world, are in risk of dying suddenly and unprepared. And finally, as a people who’s God entered the natural world in His Son Jesus Christ, let us rejoice that the Lord sustains and redeems us, in expectation of the new world to come.
3Rogation Days, Don Palmer, http://stpaulsms.org/rogation-days/