When I think of Lammas-tide,
I think of bread broken in celebration,
from scarcity to abundance;
I think of the harvest, rain falling on blackened soil,
Crops, trees, the thicket, green on green,
From the highlands to Dixieland’s deserts,
From Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’ to the god-haunted Central Sea,
From some Austrian peak, to the very shore of Galilee,
I think of the multiplicity I’ve trod; the Purple heather,
gravely paths up mountains, and the running, living water.
I think of the rhythms of creation, the rising and falling,
To breath it in… Nature’s lectionary, which calls for our attention;
I think of wide-open landscapes, and the marshes of the fens,
Hot springs bursting into the air, vast waterfalls roaring,
Glow-worms twinkling, the aurora filling the sky,
the interconnected relationship of it all,
the kingfisher, the roe deer, the red squirrel,
a remarkable harmony, a balance, a peace, and a joy
which awakens imagination, and receptivity;
and an awareness of things, which is a kind of devotion.
I think, of course, of the transcendentalists, that 19th century movement centred around Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called us out from our unthinking conformity, towards a new relationship with Nature. A movement which emerged at the intellectual crossroads between British Romanticism, Wordsworth and Coleridge, New England’s liberal religious climate, and a new spirit of self-determinism. Emerson speaks to me. He speaks my language. To quote Emerson, ‘In every work of genius we recognise our own rejected thoughts.’ That’s Emerson to me, a sage who puts my own thoughts better than I can put them myself. ‘God’ for Emerson is often said to be synonymous with Nature, but this is too simplistic, it doesn’t quite get at it. In his essay ‘The Over Soul’, he talks about us resting within ‘the eternal One’, ‘that Unity’, ‘that Over-Soul’ within every person, that common heart of which all sincere conversation is the worship.
Sincere conversation, or authentic conversation, is more difficult than we readily imagine. So often we revert to common place niceties and staid topics of conversation, the well-worn façades of humanity, but to speak from within, from our character, from the best and oldest parts of ourselves, to represent ourselves truly - Emerson equates this with worship. As such, the search for the authentic self, and the search for God, are one and the same. Worship is no pious task; one must not speak on particular matters: Christian theology, soul and salvation, the texts of the Bible, the words of prophetic teachers, and so on… One can speak on just about anything. If it’s from that which you are, from within, it is worship. It comes from a deference to a higher spirit than our own, entailing “A larger imbibing of the common heart.”
In what sense then is this deference to ‘the Great Soul’, ‘The Over Soul’, or God within, synonymous with Nature? In just this, that this Great Soul resides within the depths of humanity, within our primordial depths, and as such calls us into harmony with those essences un-changed by humanity, with the delights of Nature herself, in whom all egotism vanishes. Herein I am part of God. When Emerson describes this harmonised state with Nature, in his book ‘Nature’, he says, “I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.” Not surprising perhaps that this description resonates so closely with Douglas Harding’s description of headlessness; they seem to both be communicating the same subjective experience of unity, of euphoria, of a deep resting within the transcendent sublime.
If Emerson is the second most important writer and thinker for me, my first would be, as you probably know, Carl Jung. It’s worth noting the parallels between Emerson’s conception of God as the ‘The Over Soul’, and Jung’s conception of God as ‘The Collective Unconscious’. Again, I think it is very much the case that these two writers are using different language to describe the same experience. For Jung, the collective unconscious is the architecture of our interior selves, our unconscious mind, but more than that, that dimension of the interior psyche which is shared collectively by all humanity, comprising therein motifs and symbols which carry a weight of meaning beyond our present conscious awareness. Primordial motifs and symbols within the psyche which were enmeshed therein through the process of our evolution, and are as such necessarily naturalistic, symbols of nature and early humanity, of trees, of running brooks, of the hooting owl in the dark wood, of the cycles of agricultural with its times to sow and its times to reap, of the wind catching our back, of the flowers, of the mountain, of the sea’s smell, of the stars above our heads, and of the landscape stretching out before us. All such images and experiences are not mere external realities, or objective components of a physical world, they all reside within the depths of our psyche, and as such, to commune with these external naturalistic realities is to bridge that gulf between the depths of our soul and Nature. This is surely why we experience that transcendental elation within Nature which supersedes all rationality. For it is there that we are lifted into infinite space, and discern that we are “part or parcel of God.”
Breaking bread, as it brings to mind the reaping of the new harvest, a thanksgiving for the earth’s good bounty, that shift from scarcity to abundance, this is again one such naturalistic symbol enmeshed within our collective unconscious. It’s a symbolic act, a ritualistic act, which speaks to our souls beyond our understanding. It’s part of that bridging between soul and Nature. Of course, breaking bread as a religious act has been co-opted by the Christian narrative, but its primordial resonance within far predates such Christian symbology. It holds significance within the Christian narrative because it first had significance within the collective unconscious. And so, laying aside all pretence, in all sincerity, we lower our worldly facades. Our true selves, that which we are, coming together to commune with one another, breaking bread, and pouring out wine, for a new harvest has come. Spirit of love be present, make yourself known in this primordial act of thanksgiving we pray.