Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
“If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Romans 6:5
The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:10-11
This presentation has been designed to fit with a traditional Anglican Harvest Festival service. The talk, slides and reflection together last approximately 15 minutes, and can take the place of the sermon and the intercessions. This works particularly well if the Creed follows the presentation, preceded by a short silence.
The use of a wheat ear offers a sensory aid to the meditation, bringing to life the reality behind the food we eat, while making the meaning of the readings more accessible. If wheat ears are not available then images could be used instead.
The images in the slideshow are comprised of photos taken throughout the year around the church of St. Nicholas, Otham, which is set in a rural part of Kent. The slides are designed to relax the viewer as they follow the changing seasons in an agricultural setting. The congregation of St. Nicholas, Otham would easily recognise the areas and items shown in the presentation, effectively supporting the connections between the natural world, everyday life, memories, and the message conveyed in the readings and meditation. The use of local photos enhances the sense of place for the congregation. If you decide to use this meditation in your church, you may like to copy my idea and take photos in your own area over the year, this will create a visual presentation unique to your church and area. I have personally found that the act of photographing creation in this way can be a form of worship in itself.
Introducing the wheat ear.
As you came in this morning you will have been given a wheat ear along with your Harvest Service Book. I hope you’ve all got one.
Your wheat ear was picked from the fields opposite the church.
For centuries grain has been grown around here, and the harvest celebrated with a wheat sheaf taking up central position in front of the alter.
Celebrating the harvest, and thanking God for a fresh supply of food is an ancient tradition, and an important part of this tradition is the celebration of the grain harvest. Getting the grain in when the weather was fine was crucial before the introduction of modern harvesting and grain drying methods, as the harvest could so easily be damaged by poor weather. The grain harvest came to represent a deep concern for gathering in enough food to eat over the cold winter months. The thankfulness expressed in hymns and prayers was deep and heartfelt.
Of course in many parts of the world there is still serious concern for the harvest. Often it is grain of some sort that forms the staple diet, the successful harvest of which represents the difference between life or starvation.
So the wheat ears we have here connect us with both others in different parts of the world and with our local history. Of course they also connect us with our present day, because wheat in this country is still a staple food eaten by most of us every day in bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta, pies, and many other items.
Our wheat ears also links us with Jesus. It would have been a different variety to the one you have in front of you, but Jesus walked in the fields and ate grain in its raw state, he used grain in his parables, and as we have heard today he uses the grain as an analogy for his own death and resurrection – the grain must fall to the ground and die in order to fulfil its purpose.
So here we have our wheat ear with 50 or 60 grains tightly and beautifully packed on a single stalk, and it is incredible to think that these have grown from just one grain that had been sown and covered by soil in the autumn, and since then has been watered by the rain and warmed by the sun through the seasons to germinate and multiply in this way.
And of course this is the process that is happening throughout the natural world, in a multitude of different ways, providing us and other creatures with food.
In the old days we would have been much closer in our awareness of this process, but in recent times, mostly due to mechanisation, we have become less and less conscious of the cycles and seasons of the agricultural year, during which our food is grown.
We are fortunate to be living in this area, on the very edge of such beautiful countryside, and we can feel thankful to God for having access to this natural environment.
God has created so much beauty in the changing seasons which are free for us to enjoy. I’ve been taking photos throughout the year, so now we’re going to watch a slide show showing the scenes from around this area following in the cycle of the year. As we watch the slides, the idea is to simply relax and focus on the natural beauty around us, the wonder of change, new life and the turning year.
(The slide show will be enhanced by some gentle music of your choice)
I’d like you to focus again on your wheat ears, and perhaps pick them up and look at them. And think about the reading today – the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die if it is to rise to new life. In this Jesus is talking about himself, but he also calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him. St. Paul tells us that we must become dead to sin or self if we are to become alive in Christ. Christ is asking us to give ourselves to God so that we may become fully alive as we trust God with all that we have.
We have many attachments which get in the way of our relationship with God and with each other, and we need to let go of these things. Good things need to be handed over to God as well as bad, because even good things can cause a problem when they’re wrongly used.
Giving ourselves to God is a process that takes time, it won’t happen all at once – we won’t let go in an instant, but gradually we hand areas of our lives over to God so that he can really lead us and make use of who we are.
So looking at the wheat ear, try to visualise it as a symbol of yourself and all that you are. See if you can visualise each grain of wheat signifying an attachment of some sort – of feelings and opinions, of skills and attributes and most importantly of possessions – things that you own.
Look at each grain as symbolising things you value. Things you can hand over to God. What can you hand over to God from your life? What needs to fall to the ground and die, what might you need to let go of for your life to grow and flourish, for you to be freer and to love, and to love more?
Jesus has promised us that what we give to God with a generous and pure heart, and what we give up for his sake, we shall receive back many times over.
So let us thank God for this promise.
The Lord of creation is Lord of everything, not just creation. We know that when we hand ourselves over to God and trust his care for us, we can be certain of receiving new life and all that we need, more certain of this than our certainty that night will follow day, that day will follow night, and that the seasons will flow into each other.
A shared, mindful, slow food experience that focusses on the joy of eating together as a fellowship family. Inspired by the Christian Eucharist, this meal can be adapted to work for those of other religions or none.
(Alter prayers and meditations to suit the beliefs of the invited guests as necessary).
This project is based around what the author describes as –
‘The Five Flavours of Food‘
We all know the five flavours of salt, sweet, sour, bitter and aromatic. We enjoy these as our tongue responds the the chemical compounds in our food. But have you noticed how much better food can taste when eaten in good company, or when it is thoughtfully made by someone who loves us?
‘Man shall not live by bread alone’
Our bodies crave goodness. We need to fill ourselves with good nutrition, balanced for the wellbeing of our human structure.
‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made’
The earth craves goodness too; others need to survive and thrive for the wellbeing of the whole world. Nature is complex and diverse, producing a rich variety of food for both humans and non-human creatures alike. The Bible is full of verses that praise God for his goodness in Creation, and for the provision of food.
‘All things depend on you to give them food when they need it. You give to them and they eat; you provide food and they are satisfied.’
This food meditation encourages an awareness of a deeper form of tasting, one that tastes the joy of sharing, respecting and truly appreciating what we are eating when we sit down to a meal.
‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’
What are the ‘five flavours’ ?
These are the ‘flavours’ that the author has identified.
The material taste of the food – generally recognised as salt, sweet, sour, bitter and aromatic.
2. The people you eat with – those that sit around the table with you. Good company enhances a meal.
3. The nutritional quality of the food – thoughtful eating involves an awareness of nutrition; nutrition being the key reason for eating in the first place. A good nutritious meal can make us feel better physically and mentally, both while we eat and directly after a meal.
4. The person who cooks for us – the care and energy with which a person prepares our food may be tangible to those who are perceptive enough to notice it. The simplest of food lovingly prepared, can taste delicious, especially by those able to receive it in the spirit with which it is offered.
5. The ethical quality of the food – perhaps the most important element. The journey our food has made before arriving on our table. What has it cost the Earth, other beings (plants and animals) and people, for us to eat? All food involves some sacrifice; the plant or animal gives up its life, people give their time. Do we feel comfortable with the process that has enabled food to be on our table? Has our eating enhanced other’s welfare? Answers to these questions revolve around questions of fair trade, transportation, organic farming, land use and deforestation.
Christianity has a strong culture of hospitality and table fellowship. The following ‘recipe’ has been designed to create a simple eating together experience that will encourage those who take part to enjoy the five flavours mentioned above. When we are supported to eat with love and gratitude, we eat in a way that harmonises with the Eucharist. Eating links us with the whole of creation because all living beings eat, and are eventually eaten! We cannot help but partake of this wonderful circle of life. It is how we take part that makes the difference. This practice can help individuals to think about their personal relationship with food and the way their food choices impact on others and the wider environment.
Designing the Meal
As this meditation focusses on more than just the food itself, the ‘recipe’ has been kept very simple. Keeping the food simple means that one can focus on each ingredient so as to really appreciate what it has to offer. Simplicity also means that those who are not confident at cooking can easily take part in the preparation without feeling overwhelmed.
The ingredients have been deliberately chosen for their general availability, economy, fair trade, organic potential, and nutritional value.
The meal consists of freshly squeezed orange juice, coleslaw made from carrots, cabbage, onion, celery and apples, along with freshly baked bread and butter (local farm produced if possible), or a vegan alternative.
To mix with the coleslaw, mayonnaise made with free range eggs has been chosen. For vegans or those with allergies, alter the ingredients as necessary.
Choose the place
Place matters. Choose a place where people feel comfortable physically and emotionally.
Holding the meal in church will help to strengthen the link between the actions of the Eucharist and the meaning of eating mindfully. If this doesn’t work for people then any setting with a table big enough for all to sit around and prepare the food together can be just as good.
Gather the people
Invite the guests – a group of between three to seven will work well, allowing for everyone to have an equal share in the food preparation process.
Tools and Ingredients
Fresh oranges for juicing along with manual orange squeezers.
Choose fair-trade and organic if possible. These may be available from local whole food stores or online from companies such as Crowdfarming.com
Five fresh ingredients – cabbage, carrot, onion, celery and apple. Make other similar choices to suit tastes and in the case of allergies.
A jar of mayonnaise or sour cream for mixing.
Tools needed for the coleslaw are knives, graters, chopping boards, wooden spoon and a nice big bowl to place the coleslaw in . Plates and knives and forks for individual eating.
Flour for the bread, preferably from an identified source.
Yeast, water and a little sugar.
A bread maker if possible, so the bread can be made while the other preparations occur.
Alternatively the bread can be made ahead of time and be cooking in the oven while the meal is prepared. Either way you will need to have the bread preparing before the guests arrive . If you are using a bread maker set it up and get the process going about an hour before people are set to arrive. This will mean that the bread will be baking while the other ingredients for the meal are being prepared. The meditation for the bread is described below.
Setting the scene
We are inviting people to come together for a ‘slow food’ event. The experience is to be thoughtful, appreciative and participatory. In many ways the situation is mundane, there is no competition or particular ‘show’ to be made. It is in the guests playing their part that the meal is made special. There is nothing sophisticated about the food; the value comes from the love shared between those taking part.
While the atmosphere may be focussed and prayerful, it may also be joyous and playful. Those attending can expect to experience a sense of warmth, sharing and creativity. Space for personal reflection will allow for individual learning, which may range from discovering a new recipe, through understanding more about food sources, to recognising something new about one’s individual relationship with food.
Above all a personal sense of taste on multiple levels is what is to be emphasised.
Start With The Orange Juice
Having invited people to sit down around the table, place a bowl of oranges in the centre – enough for at least one per person present.
Draw people’s attention to the oranges and ask people to contemplate the fruit.
Suggest that they really look at the rich orange colour, the dimpled skin, the imperfect round shapes. Do the sensory elements of the oranges affect feelings?
Do oranges hold any memories or trigger any thoughts – Christmas, Summer, holidays or a big round sun? Allow people to share thoughts if they’d like to.
Talk about the origins of the oranges. Where were they grown? If possible show an image of an orange grove. If you can, show a map of where the oranges come from. If you have bought the oranges from a cooperative group like www.crowdfarming.com, or a local organic veg box supplier such as www.organicdeliverycompany.co.uk , then it should be possible to know and show the details of the grower and location of the farm.
Having got to know where the oranges come from, we can move on to the quality and character of an orange.
An orange contains 65 – 90 milligrams of vitamin C – enough for the daily requirements of the average human. Vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues, the immune system, healing of wounds and maintenance of cartilage, bones and teeth.
Invite participants to spend a few moments contemplating the vitamin C held within the orange and how their body depends on what the orange has to offer. Spend a moment considering the wonder of the body’s capacity to absorb and make use of vitamin C, feeling grateful for its presence here in this orange.
Touch and Smell.
Invite guests to feel the weight of the orange in their hand. Then encourage them to run their fingers over the orange so as to feel its dimpled skin, rubbing the orange a little, perhaps cutting in slightly with a finger nail. After this they might hold the orange up towards your nose and take in the aroma.
Having got the feel of our orange its now time to cut into it.
Using boards and knives each participant now cuts their orange in half.
Reflect on the pattern revealed by the cut orange segments, the juice held in the segments, the thin outer rind, and the bitter tasting pith at the centre.
Using the juicer, feel the sensations of the fruit crushed. Watch the juice pour down into the container.
Wait until everyone has squeezed their juice, and anticipate the delicious flavour held within each glass.
Say a short grace –
‘Thank you Lord for the juice of this orange, full of goodness for our bodies. Thank you for the people who grew these oranges; the work, the knowledge and the care given to the trees through the seasons.
Thank you for the soil that transforms life and death into new life, bringing renewal and strength in an endless cycle. For the creatures that play their part in the cycle of growth, worms, grubs and insects; all living their life in a way that gives life to others.
We drink to the earth, to each other’s health and to each other’s enjoyment of life, and to God – the giver of good things.‘
Introducing The Ingredients
Coleslaw (or cabbage salad) is of Dutch origin, having made its way into English cooking around the mid 18th Century. Its essential ingredients are cabbage and a vinaigrette sauce. These days all kinds of raw vegetables are included in recipes for coleslaw, which is normally mixed together with mayonnaise or sour cream.
Bring out the ingredients for the coleslaw, along with boards, knives, graters and mixing bowl with spoon.
Starting With The Cabbage
Place the cabbage on the board and discuss where the cabbage came from. If the cabbage came from a supermarket, the country of origin should be shown on the wrapper, alternatively if the cabbage has been purchased at a local farm shop or market then it may be possible to find out more details on where the cabbage was grown.
Cabbage is known to be very healthy, containing multiple vitamins, being a good source of Vitamin C and K.
Cabbage is included in the 15th Century health manual Tacuinum Sanitatis, as a plant with many benefits. More recently cabbage has been found to decrease the risk of many human cancers.
All varieties of the cabbage family are derived from wild cabbage, which tends to be found on southern coastal areas. Research suggests that cultivation of the cabbage started around 10,000 years ago.
Are there any particular thoughts or feelings around the vegetable cabbage that the guests would like to share?
Having Talked About Cabbage Move On To The Carrots
Introduce the carrots.
Organic carrots are widely available and not normally expensive, so hopefully it will be possible to find some for the meal, or even better some locally or home grown from the garden.
Carrots are famously a good source of vitamin A, which is helpful for eyesight, and although eating them won’t actually enable you to see in the dark, it can protect against night blindness. Most likely first cultivated in Persia, modern day carrots are derived from the common hedgerow plant, wild carrot.
Invite people to share their thoughts and feelings about carrots.
Now Move On To The Celery
Organic celery is also available in supermarkets.
Wild celery is a marshland plant that has been cultivated since antiquity for its medicinal qualities, which are purported to be useful against colds, flu, and various types of arthritis.
It was not until the 16th Century that celery began to be cultivated in Europe.
Celery is also very nutritious and contains very few calories compared to other vegetables.
Invite guests to share their thoughts or reflections around celery.
Using apples in coleslaw offers a sweet, juicy crunch to the mixture.
As with all the other ingredients, try to use apples that are local and organic if possible, and check the variety.
Apples originated in the Middle East about 4,000 years ago, and were brought to Britain by the Romans. Wild apples, or Crab apples are probably a descendant of the apples brought over to Britain at this time.
Apples are considered very healthy to eat, being particularly high in antioxidants as well as other nutrients. Many of the nutrients are concentrated in the skin, so it is beneficial to leave the skin on, which also offers a nice green or rosy colour mixed in with the other ingredients when making coleslaw.
Invite guests to share any thoughts or reflections about apples.
One onion will be enough for the mix, a very small one if there are only 3/4 people taking part.
Although no original wild onions still exist, they have a long history of use. Traces of onion have been found at Bronze Age settlements in China. It is believed that the Ancient Egyptians revered the onion for its spherical shape and concentric rings. Evidence of onion traces were found in the eye sockets of Ramesses IV.
Onions are mentioned in the Medieval Encyclopaedia Hortus Sanitatis (The Garden of Health), which lists various species’ medicinal uses and modes of preparation. Today they are considered to be beneficial to health as they are low in calories, and are a good source of vitamin C, B6, iron, folate and potassium.
Onions are known to make people’s eyes water when we are preparing them, which is caused by the reaction between two chemicals released when the onion is cut. These two chemicals create a gas which causes the irritation we’ve all experienced. Its the one time that we might cry without any emotional reason!
Bread has been the traditional staple diet for generations, the variety of styles reflecting the diversity of cultures around the world. Bread links us with our ancestors, with cultures around the globe, with ancient history, with the circle of life, and with biblical times. Jesus not only ate bread but also presents himself in terms of bread. Bread represents the food we all need to live.
Introducing The Grain
Bread can be made from a variety of grain, however usually it is made from wheat, so if all the guests are happy with this, that is likely to be the best option.
Try to find a flour from an identifiable source.
If you can. find some heads of wheat (or alternative grain if that is your choice) to introduce the bread; then these will also act as an excellent symbol of the whole circle of life – birth, death and rebirth in the abundance of Creation.
Depending on your locality, you may be able to find a local mill that still grinds flour, if you can it will help to deepen the link with the history of place and the agricultural cycle.
The wind or water powered mechanism means minimum carbon footprint ( although some historic mills actually run on electricity for health and safety reasons). Windmills like the Union Mill in Cranbrook, which is run by volunteer enthusiasts, tend to form a community hub giving both a symbolic and an actual expression of community identity.
Of interest to those living in the Capital, and perhaps the most surprising for its existence, Brixton Mill is the only surviving windmill in the London area; a relic of its former rural landscape. Brixton Mill produces stoneground, wholemeal organic flour from locally grown wheat. Suppliers can be found at their website https://www.brixtonwindmill.org.
Use a recipe you know already, or try one out before hand. You will also need yeast, water and a little sugar and salt.
Have the bread set up and being made in the bread maker, or proving ready for the oven, before the guests arrive.
Tell the guests about the origins of the flour and the way it has been ground.
Show the wheat ears, the bag of flour and any images that you have of the growing area and/or mill, and invite the guests to reflect on the growing process, the significance of harvest, historical connectivity and cultural diversity, and food supply.
Encourage the guests to share thoughts and memories attached to bread and grain.
Bring all the ingredients and tools to the table, and invite guests to choose an ingredient to start preparing.
The guest who has chosen the cabbage places it on a board. All the guests now have an opportunity to contemplate the cabbage again.
Talk about the way the cabbage is made up of layers of leaves that have grown over time, hidden from human sight. It is only when the cabbage is cut into that we can see the inner leaves allowing the pattern of their growth to be revealed.
Take a moment to consider how the knife will enter the cabbage, slicing through the crisp leaves across the layers.
As the cabbage is cut through, the other guests watch and take time to look at the shapes that are revealed by the cutting.
The guest who has chosen the carrots places one of them on a board along with the grater. Invite the guests to contemplate how this carrot has grown, hidden in the ground. Its shape and colour was unseen in the soil until it was pulled up by the grower. Consider how the orange colour has been created from the dark brown soil it grew in – spend a moment with the wonder of this.
The guests watch as the first carrot is grated, and a fresh carroty smell emerges.
The guest who has chosen the celery lays one of the sticks on a board. The guests now have an opportunity to contemplate the design of the celery; its hollow stem on the inside and ridges on the outer side.
One guest now cuts through the celery and continues to make thin slices up the stem.
One guest now takes an apple and places it on the board.
Spend a moment considering the process that has made this apple available to us. The apple has grown on a tree. The tree will have been planted, pruned and tended during the year. Initially leaves will have sprouted and grown, as the weather warmed up in the Spring, then in late April the flower buds will have emerged, and opened into pink and white blossom. Essentially bees will have done their pollination work, so that germination could take place and fruit develop. The apple has taken around four months to mature, outside in the fresh air and the sunshine, until a person has picked it from the tree and it has become available to us as it is now. We are looking at the results of all this activity. Take a moment to appreciate the energy that has gone into the production of this apple.
The apple is cut in half.
The division reveals the asymmetric shape of the apple, the central enclosure in which the pips have been formed, and the pips themselves.
Look at the fresh juicy flesh of the apple, designed to be eaten and enjoyed by us and other creatures, but essentially designed for the production of the seed, which represents the potential for new life.
The brave person who has agreed to chop the onion must be prepared for their eyes to water! Of course the onion may affect everyone in the proximity depending on its strength. If it is too much then it may be best for the onion to be prepared outside where a breeze might clear the onion smell away before it hits the eyes.
First allow the guests to appreciate the golden colours and sheen as the onion is pealed. Its interesting to note the layers of skin protecting the onion bulb.
A slice is then cut. Inside are the concentric rings that have grown over time as the onion sat with its roots in the ground and its body largely exposed to the sun.
By now everyone will have their nostrils filled with the odour of onion – the onion has made its presence felt!
Invite guests to share thoughts and feelings about onions.
Continue With The Preparations
The guests now continue to prepare the various ingredients, perhaps swapping tasks as they chat and reflect on the sensory elements of the food.
Once the ingredients are all chopped, grated and sliced they can be put together into the bowl. Add the mayonnaise, soured cream or vegan alternative, and give it a good stir.
The Bread Will Be Ready Soon
By now there should be a delicious smell of baking bread melding with all the other flavours on the table.
Once cooking is complete, and the machine has cooled down, take the bread out to finish cooling before being ready to cut.
Clear the table of preparation items and wash up if you have a sink handy.
Lay the table with cutlery, plates, napkins, glasses and a jug of water, and place the bowl of coleslaw, the bread, ready with the knife, and butter on the table.
The meal is now ready.
With the guests seated say grace.
Thank you for this food. We praise you for all that you give, for the way our food is produced, growing from seed in the ground, watered by the rain, fed by the light of the sun and nutrients in the soil, with leaves that take in carbon dioxide and breath out oxygen during the sunlight hours.
Your world is complex, beautiful and delicious to take part in. Teach us to take part with the respect and delight that will enable our life to bring life to others. Help us to remember that we are all part of the a great circle of life, growing from seed and egg, developing in the darkness, emerging into the light of the world, dependant on care givers, needing love and protection, transforming food into energy, maturing from our embodied existence, a mixture of spirit, intellect and bodily activity.
We move like all beings towards a return to spirit, make our lives worthwhile as we contemplate the meaning of your Creation, as we trust in Christ’s transforming power for the ultimate renewal of all things.
As the guests eat, encourage natural and relaxed conversation with moments of quietness, conscious of the ‘five flavours’ in their food.
The material flavour of the food, the subtle flavours of good company, loving service, care and appreciation of the wider world, along with absorption of good quality nutrition into the body, should all emerge and meld together to create a delicious harmony.