By Kit Carlson

This coming Sunday (6 Easter) was known, in a softer and more agricultural time, as Rogation Sunday. Along with the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day (this year on May 17), these were days to “beat the bounds” of the parish, to make a grand procession along the boundaries of a church’s parish territory, through the farms and fields, to ask God’s blessing on the upcoming harvest.

Like many Christian observances, Rogationtide was a reworking of an older, pagan tradition. The Robigalia, a Roman procession, used to be held in the spring to propitiate the god Robigo. Robigo’s special area of expertise was keeping mildew off the crops. If properly beseeched, he could guarantee a successful harvest. Another, separate observance also got glued onto the Rogation processions, when in 470 AD, Bishop Mamerus of Vienne, in Gaul, held processional litanies after a time of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

The medieval church continued to observe these rites, but in the first wave of the English Reformation, they were tossed out as too pagan. Elizabeth I, who always liked a good parade, reinstituted them when she became queen. You can still find them carried out in some English villages.

But in America, our sense of the fragility of the harvest has faded. We harvest our foodstuffs in the supermarket, where frost in Florida or drought in California might push up the prices on our produce. But there will always be Chilean blueberries in January and rock-hard tomatoes year-round to convince us that food comes not from the ground, but from a store.

We have distanced ourselves from the seasons of the earth, from her vagaries and willfulness. We do not fear that one good storm will ruin our season, that an unexpected frost will destroy our orchards.

Some churches have turned to Rogationtide as a chance to connect to Earth Day, to issues of environmental stewardship, to remind ourselves to take better care of “this fragile earth, our island home.” And with the very real threat of global warming, this is not an issue to be taken lightly.

But I wonder if we have missed the point of Rogationtide in that case. The word Rogation comes from the Latin rogare, “to ask”. It is essentially a lengthy tour of prayer and propitiation through the very sustaining places of life, one that acknowledges that in the end, we are powerless to grant ourselves all we need to survive. It is a season that does not ask us to exercise better control. It is a season that acknowledges that God has control.

And we do not.

So perhaps a better Rogation observance this Sunday might be to walk the borders of your land, the rooms of your home, the hallways of your office building, the sidewalks of your shopping center and pray that they might stay safe and whole. It might be a good day to remember New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, the ice storms of the past winter, the tornado the leveled Greensburg, Kansas last week, and the thunderstorms that topple trees and tear up houses. It might be a good day to think about those we have loved and lost to cancer, or heart disease or HIV/AIDS. It might be a good day to remember the students and community of Virginia Tech, how suddenly their peace was shattered, how swiftly death and terror came upon them.

And remember that we do not have control, really. That there is much about our lives that is completely dependent on fair weather, on good health, on a kind of routine-ized and boring everyday safety.

Walk and pray, And ask. Ask for those things we count upon but cannot really give ourselves. Acknowledge God’s providence, God’s mercy, God’s presence in each of those things we need and care for and take completely for granted.



The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She played the apostle Paul on the world’s first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

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