It’s Lammas today. Lammas is old English for Loaf-Mass.
Today marks a day in the year when I am called to pause. The pause in this moment is like no other before it, nor like any of those to come… It is a yielding time. Time to yield to the demands of the moment, to hear the invitation and ALLOW what is to exert its influence on me.
Where I grew up, on the prairies, ‘the grain belt’ of Canada, there is a particular fondness for this time of year. My father was a ‘grain man’ and as such I have a strong felt-sense of the rise and fall of the fields in their cycle. It is affectionately known as August Long. The first weekend of August is a designated Bank Holiday and as the Dog Days of Summer are unofficially welcomed, we to get together with friends and family, to play, to eat good food, to share, laugh and reconnect. It is a time of thanksgiving.
Lammas is the first of the three harvest festivals in the year and marks the time that we harvest the grain from the fields. It’s an opportunity to rest after toil, to celebrate and to reconnect. It is also, somewhat less comfortably, a time of sacrifice. Sacrifice gets a lot of bad press, as though it is to be avoided, that somehow it diminishes us. We’re happy to identify with what it is to be the harvester, to enjoy growth and the bounty but less so, to understand what has been yielded and what it is to yield. It’s a potent word yield; we yield, surrender and there is a yield, a crop or harvest.
Our culture has been one of inbred and growing separation, somehow elevating ourselves, humans, above the natural world… apart from. This year feels acutely different to me; emerging from an unprecedented ‘course correction’ through lockdown, rapidly growing awareness of the critical state of our environment and humanity’s part in that, as well as our vulnerability in the face of change, is giving rise to an awareness in a deeper sense of how truly imperiled we are. As I write this, I have a feeling that this is not just about our relationship to the environment but by virtue of our sense of being ‘apart from’ our environment, apart from ourselves and, by extension, apart from Spirit. The celebrations at the turn of the wheel are a regular invitation to re-member that we are One. We have been given to believe that ‘the virus’ is apart from us and that we can be kept separate; and by extension, ‘safe’ and unchanged. The emergence of BLM has underlined just how pernicious our sense of division and separateness has become and how it is erupting with violence and fear in our communities.
Yield is not a STOP sign. It’s a call to ‘give way’, it is not an order, but a call, a request. It depends on our volition, rather than our obedience. We need to be willing; to choose to give way, to soften and to yield. What we often lose sight of is that in order to give birth to something new, to life, there is sacrifice, there is a yielding that surpasses whatever we have known til now. There is also fear, we cannot know for certain what will grow and bear fruit. It is an action that requires an enormous act of courage in the face of uncertainty, a leap of faith. It is a decision that we make, a choice.
In the course of this sacrifice, something is lost. The grain is reaped, there will be no more growth, it will, in effect, die… and so oddly, there is intermingled with the celebration of the harvest, also grief, an acknowledgement of what has been, what is passing away. A line has been drawn under all of the promise that the crop held. The decision has been made to reap what is, and in so doing relinquish what might have been. This is easily glossed over in the face of the abundance that we enjoy, but we do so at our peril, because a part of our dream is lost and unacknowledged, a part of our past self, released.
It is paradoxical that it is in celebration of a time of shearing away, harvesting and reaping… separation from the old story and the dream of what might have been, that we are invited into connection. We can find that connection by way of feasting on and digesting the harvest.
There is much GOOD that is evident. Emerging from lockdown and the strangeness of these times, makes me aware of how richly served I am in my life, in so many ways. It’s time now, to really drink deeply of the gifts of the harvest, some earned, others freely offered. We are reminded that we are part of life, not apart from it. Sharing food, sharing a laugh or a sadness is evidence of our connection to it all.
A quintessential feature of this time is the process of reaping the harvest; sorting the wheat from the chaff and choosing what we want to ingest (digest!) and what is unpalatable, we are minded to set aside some of that seed. To choose wisely, we will look to the most robust seed because it carries the promise of another cycle, another harvest and most importantly, it carries Hope. The hope is unidentified specifically, it is a Mystery… there is a sense that the seed will carry with it the nourishment of the next season; we don’t know what that season will entail, we can’t know the specifics. There is risk and there is hope. Hope carries with it ALL things. This hope is also evidence of the unerring course of life, eternal and unending through the process of growth and decay, sowing and reaping.
I have been walking lately, and came across the most glorious conker. The Chesnut trees are abundantly laden this year and I was struck by how much this bizarre, alien-looking thing so closely resembles the images of a virus that we have been bombarded with over the past months. The virus as enemy, as ‘Other’, as threat… something to be avoided at all costs. We have been ‘ordered’, ‘advised’ to avoid IT at all costs; our education, our communities, our families, the economy. We have sacrificed and yielded to this advice, and many have succumbed to illness; have ended their possibility of growth in this life. There is grief.
I cannot help but look at this conker, which I know, from my experience, carries within it a whole new tree, as yet unrealized. As I touch into the mystery of that miracle I cannot help but reflect on the possibility that this virus may well also be a seed of sorts… not something apart, what has gone before that can be controlled or eradicated or in fact suppressed, but the fruit of what has gone before AND it contains the promise of a new life, as yet unrevealed.
We have chosen, in many senses to ‘shield’ ourselves from the inevitability of Life. We have donned masks and gloves, sanitized, barricaded ourselves in an effort to hold back the ‘virus’, an emissary of change. We have become so disconnected from life (and therefore death) that we fool ourselves into thinking that we can be apart from it. Evidence of our desire to divide ourselves into factions of ‘clean’ and ‘infected’, Black and White, caring and selfish, masked and unmasked is a reflection of our disconnect from Life itself. Just as a virus is a natural life phenomena, we are also a part of that same phenomena. The notion that we can ‘control’ the virus is therefore not only foolish, but it is perilous, as it speaks to a Hubris that belies the depth of our disconnect from ourselves, one another, the planet and all of life.
If we can undertake the invitation to sacrifice willingly, the Harvest is assured. It is not done lightly but carries with it the promise of Hope.
Happy August Long…. Blessed Lammas.
** Special Thanks to Duncan Brooks for his photograph **