Seasons of thankfulness
As the harvest is safely gathered in, Heather Skull looks at what it means to be living in thankfulness in all circumstances
So… the harvest loaf has been shared, the last slice of apple pie devoured and songs about ploughing fields and scattering seed dutifully sung.
It’s a great day for giving thanks and saying thank you.
My church isn’t the only one to have been marking the season last weekend. Many places up and down the UK have also been giving thanks for the provision of the harvest.
I suspect it has an even greater resonance in rural areas as the relationship with the land is a much closer one.
After all, we watch the changing scenes of the farming landscape across the year and know – roughly – when to allow extra time for journeys because the tractors and trailers are bringing in the harvest.
I always grin to myself as we sing ‘Come ye thankful people come’, remembering the slightly grumpy farmer who refused to sing ‘All is safely gathered in’ because in his view harvest services were held too early in the year.
His compromise was to sing ‘MOST is safely gathered in’ at the top of his voice to make his point to the long-suffering vicar.
Generally our harvests are good ones. It’s not always the case though. Crop yields (the amount of crop harvested per unit of land) matter. When they’re down, it’s not going to be a good year.
It’s not often that there is a catastrophic loss of the agricultural harvest here.
In my past life as a BBC Wiltshire journalist, I’ve often done interviews with farmers who’ve admitted their low crop yield is going to make things tough for them financially – often in a completely matter of fact way and I felt for them.
It’s tough being thankful in difficult times. About five years ago I came across a song by Matt Redman which talks about how we should give thanks in the bad times as well as the good.
Yes. I know. Tough gospel.
But the man who introduced me to the song is a farmer called Cameron. Cameron and his wife Muriel, who have become very dear friends over the past few years, farm in Wiltshire. They mainly farm pigs. We’ve had quite a few hilarious moments together on the radio – retelling the story of the Prodigal Son on their farm, complete with authentic real pig sound effects remains one of my favourites.
On this occasion I’d asked them both if they would be willing to talk about their favourite harvest hymns for a special Sunday breakfast programme I was putting together.
Cameron instantly said it would be the Matt Redman song Blessed be your name.
When I asked him why, he paused. When he resumed his story, I understood why.
In 2001, Wiltshire like many other rural places, was completely locked down and in the grip of an epidemic of foot and mouth. I remember it well. Farms were off-limits and some were almost in a state of siege, nothing in, nothing out. Cameron and Muriel’s was one of those places.
They couldn’t go to church, said Cameron, so had no other option than to hold their own service on the farm. As a family, they sat together, prayed together and read the Bible together on Sunday morning.
And in the afternoon, Cameron had to go out and destroy all his pigs because of foot and mouth.
I can hardly bear to write it even now. Farmers don’t always get a good press, but I’ve seen the way my friends and their staff care for the animals on the farm. I’ve seen piglets struggling to survive being brought inside and placed in warm boxes by the Aga in their kitchen.
I can’t begin to imagine how it must have felt on that terrible day back in 2001. And how it felt to have to start all over again on a farm that had been in the family for many years.
And yet. Despite all this horror, here is Cameron telling me that the song that matters most to him says these words, ‘Blessed be your name, when I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness, blessed be your name…’
I have huge respect for anyone who holds onto their faith in the darkness. Their words carry authority as they speak of their trust in God even if they admit they don’t understand the whys.
Giving thanks in the difficult times isn’t easy. Finding the things to be thankful for can be tough. Silver linings are often be lost in the blackness of the cloud.
And yet. In the midst of disaster there is often an assurance that we are not alone. For me, the darkness that I have often experienced in the past few years isn’t made any less dark by the knowledge that I genuinely believe God’s there alongside me. But what that knowledge does for me is remind me that he won’t leave me until I emerge into the light, sometimes gently encouraging me, sometimes – frankly – dragging me like a temper tantrum filled toddler, but always there. Always.
And at that moment – as the old harvest hymn says – I’m reminded to thank the Lord, for all his love. Through the snows of the winter, the warm sunshine that swells the grain, the breezes, the hurricanes and the soft refreshing rain…
Heather Skull is a former BBC Radio Wiltshire journalist and a member of Trowbridge Baptist Church. She blogs at tractorgirl66.wordpress.com, where this article first appeared