The word “Harvest,” which is our theme for the month of October, is a fascinating word. It is an action, (a time of gathering), and it is the product of the action (what has been gathered is the gathering). Found within almost all of the world’s religions, Harvest is lifted up as servitude but also celebration; it is a time of offering and duty, but also grace and gift.
In the book of Leviticus, of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, it is written, “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien.” No one, it is taught and praised, could produce nor benefit from the Harvest, alone.
I have been thinking about this word a lot lately as we enter into October and this autumnal season where visions of Pilgrims accompany the appearance of changing leaves. What do I harvest and what is my harvest? What have I gathered and what would I know my gathering by? Have I reaped to the very corners of my field? Have I left something for the stranger who travels beside me?
For centuries religious congregations have been seeking to facilitate these questions. Priests and prophets and pastors of all kinds have offered answers or practices in response to them: it is the food we grow or purchase and it is that which should be offered; it is our spiritual nourishment that we must glean and then teach to strangers of our faith as our offering; it something that we have and that can we can give.
Unitarian Universalist history points me to a different answer all together, though. Beginning in the 1950s-70s, newly forming Unitarian Universalist congregations stated their theological beliefs in their matters of governance. No longer were these new congregations “formed” or “founded” by some higher entity – a god or hierarchical governance as they had always stated to have been- but instead their documents write that these congregations were “gathered” by and for the people. The action and the product of the action.
As we approach this time of Harvest and this month of looking deeply at what this word might mean for us, I wonder how we might bring this spirit of finding that the Harvest, the gathered body of people whom we call UCS, is the gift; of discovering that by gathering together in our faith community, by gleaning the harvest for and with others, this community is our bounty.
What have you harvested? And how do you know your gathering? Have you shared these gifts? Have you gleaned to the very edges of your field? Our history is one of great intentionality in our actions, for the sake of the product of our actions. It is a history and living tradition of Harvest.