The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell

Christ Church, New Haven

May 1, 2016

Easter 6C, Rogation Sunday

What else?


On this Rogation Sunday I’d like to begin by reading “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver.

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Throughout history, people have been moved to share the inspiration they find in nature, and their understanding of the experiences in their lives, and ours, that nature can offer. Throughout history people surrounded by nature have been moved to prayer. And we come together today to celebrate a festival of nature whose roots predate Christianity.

Rogation Sunday was a time of prayer and fasting in the early summer for the harvest.  It is the Christianized version of the Robigalia when people processed through corn fields praying for the preservation of the crops from mildew. As adopted by the British the feast day was a procession around the boundaries of a village.  As the villagers walked the boundaries, they would cut down a hedge that crossed the way. They would leave their mark on a house blocking the path.

In the English church Rogation Sunday was a time of procession around the boundaries of the parish “beating the bounds”. As they went they’d remark on the landmarks they were passing: the tree planted to replace the landmark tree blown down by the storm, the good fishing spot on the local stream. We hear they would bump young boys against the boundary markers to be sure they were learning town boundaries.

Everyone went, young and old, people who’d lived there their whole lives and those who had happened to wander into town and stayed. Ultimately became a way of welcoming new people

And passing on to them both the history of the place and its culture.

Most of us don’t live in an agricultural area, although we could well have grown up on a farm or in an area where planting and harvest focused life. Yet many seek the countryside as a place of peace and refreshment.  In nature we find God’s creativity and presence, a sign of God’s patience and inspiration.

An Anglican Church publication, Faith in the Countryside, asked: What are they seeking? And what do they find? Most will give simple answers: they feel ‘at rest’ or ‘refreshed’ in the countryside. They may even speak of being ‘renewed’ by contact with what they call nature. … That feeling of wholeness and healing bestowed by contact with nature in the countryside is for many close to religious experience and is frequently expressed in religious language. (2)

In nature we see at the same time the brilliance and power, the intricacy and inter-relation of the creative power of God. As we are surrounded by a culture changing with dizzying speed, the unchangeable cycles of nature offer a sense of God’s peace, a grounding that is increasingly elusive in our lives.

Again, from Mary Oliver, “The Landscape’”

Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

Nature surrounds us. We have for centuries, perhaps for the history of humanity, taken its life giving presence for granted and assumed it was created solely for our benefit, for conquering and taming, for exploiting without concern for its inherent purpose in the balance of life. We have ignored the necessity of our care and protection.

Theologian Hans Kung has expressed the challenge of change and progress saying that as we have moved into new areas in technology somehow we haven’t had a contemporary moral progress to prevent the misuse of science. 

The sense that nature exists solely for our use can be found in Holy Scripture, in Christian writings and in earlier versions of the Book of Common Prayer.  No wonder the exploitation of nature has been a given throughout most of history.  No wonder we exist on the precipice of a natural disaster that may not be reversible.

Last Wednesday night I had the gift of attending the last Wednesday night Eucharist of Berkeley Divinity School.  It was a wonderful night to be with the people of Berkeley. Dean Andrew McGowan recognized the Hildans who have been joining in worship and the meal that follows during this year.

I was so pleased to hear the ministry of St. Hilda’s House and the Hildans honored.  It was also important for me to be there as it was the last service for Fr. Tony Jarvis, who has taught at Berkeley for 8 years. Tony supported me in my early ministry in Boston and has been priest, counselor and confidant to countless seminarians.  He preached a powerful sermon on the Christian life and on our responsibility to communicate that in the midst of the power of giving our lives to a purpose, to follow Jesus Christ is to intentionally offer our life to the purposes of God’s presence among us in Jesus. It is in following as we are called that God’s peace is to be found.

Truly, this is a life of breakthrough and of failure, where the understanding of success is not grounded in the culture that surrounds us but in the power and freedom of that self-offering. As Christians we are called, every one of us, to lead people to take on this difficult life knowing that in its midst we will stand in awe of God’s action and God’s grace. 

Creativity is the nature of God, and that humans and all of nature were created because that is what God does, create. We create with God, being God’s co-creators. We are co-creators, for example, in areas as diverse as in scientific research and as we help children in need. As co-creators we have a responsibility to care for creation with integrity and energy.

If on this Rogation Sunday we were beating the physical bounds of Christ Church, we’d cross the lines that other parishes were beating, as well. Of course there are all sorts of boundaries in our lives. If the boundaries were mental rather than geographical—one might ask two questions: What are the boundaries on who we are? Are there boundaries on who we can become?

What if we took it upon ourselves, in our individual actions as Christians, to take the care of creation more deeply into our hearts?  What if we saw it our role as Christians today to change the trajectory of climate change? If we as Christians don’t see this as our role and responsibility, who will?

Our lives are busy, and we have many cares that occupy our time. As co-creators with God we must consider the ethical challenges of our interactions with nature--our use of pollutants, our support of industries that pollute, our impact on the habitats of the creatures that surround us. In our day, this must be a significant focus of the vocation to which we are all called as we follow Jesus Christ.

Again from “The Summer Day”   

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.    

Tell me, what else should I have done? (4)






(1)   Oliver, Mary. “The Summer Day” New and Selected Poems Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 1992.

(2)   Faith in the Countryside, 1990 as quoted at God@work.rural,

(3)   Oliver, Mary "Landscape" Dream Work. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

(4)   Oliver, Mary. “The Summer Day” Op. cit.