Interrupted by Oats

I pace myself.  I make maps of the day, (and often the year) so that I can plan my life efficiently.  Consciously or unconsciously in the end I’m looking for  guilt-free solitude with my responsibilities complete.  Getting free time is often contingent upon  other people’s maps and plans.  Or their tendencies toward wild spontaneity that involve you.  Or Nature’s insistent necessities.

You’d think living along side a monastic community would insure an ordered schedule, and here at the Melrose Covent that’s usually true.  The bell rings at the predictable times calling us to prayer or meals.  But when the mission is farming, sometimes crises determines the schedule.  This weekend it was oats.

Already behind on the webwork ( but struggling through the crafting of a sermon so that I could get back to meeting my deadline, Bill’s head appeared in my doorway on Saturday afternoon. “No need to work on your sermon. Mass tomorrow will be in the field while we’re harvesting oats. ”

Up to my ears in oats, photo by Erin Martineau (cropped, sg)

Up to my ears in oats, photo by Erin Martineau (cropped, sg)

Oats need harvesting at just the right moment, and this rainy summer further complicates the window of opportunity for gathering them in.  Like the Magi calculating the birth of Jesus, the sisters carefully determined Sunday morning at ten the only dry possibility for harvest.

So I put away the sermon and worked on the website until 5:30 Vespers.  But just then the new vole-catching cats, arrived that afternoon, freaked and ran off, and everyone engaged themselves in the hunt, while one sister, taking advantage of the break in the rain, dragged herself to the field to plant carrots.  I went back to my work until someone called me just after six. “We’re having Vespers NOW, and will you please gather the two sisters from the field and bring them with you?”

Saturday is Market Day, already busy and stressful. Clearly everyone’s day had been interrupted repeatedly as mine had.  Seated in the chapel, as the Angelus bell rang at six-twenty, I looked at my watch.  Innocently.  But … it was enough to start the giggling.  Everyone pushed to the edge that day felt punchy. We only made it through the office because at any given moment at least one voice carried on.  Tears and snorts and gasps and nose blowing = healing, liberating, cleansing, sanctifying. 

A sister harvesting oats, St, Aidan's in the background

A sister harvesting oats, St, Aidan's in the background

Sunday dawned gray and by nine a soft steady drizzle meant all the weather calculations had been off.  The Magi took a wrong turn and ended up in Gaul.  “Well, do I go back to my sermon for half and hour?” “No, they’re going to harvest the oats anyway,” said Bill.  So we set up a little table for a Eucharist in Sweet William’s field, and Bill and I started early – Bill scything while I carried the bundles to the truck.  The sisters came with two unsuspecting guests who’d planned on a nice, indoor musical Eucharist.  Instead, they joined us good-naturedly but ruined their clothes with mud and stains.

After getting oats to the refectory “barn” and a short coffee-break, we bundled the stalks into shocks.  We celebrated the Eucharist, finally, but indoors  and without a sermon. A sister sang this hastily written hymn of praise:

For our morning worship, we’re harvesting grain
In a hopeful attempt to beat the rain.

Our work IS worship, our work is play
We live out our liturgy in the field each day.

We gathered into barns, we bundled in shocks

Oat Shocks in the Refectory/Barn, photo Erin Martineau

Oat Shocks in the Refectory/Barn, photo Erin Martineau

We’re learning on the farm; it’s the school of hard knocks.

Creator, bless our harvest, in deepest gratitude to You we bow…

One Response to “Interrupted by Oats”

  1. Bonnie P. Says:

    loved this one, Suzanne. I can’t wait to read more.


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