I am new to the Episcopal/Anglican tradition and, aside from side plots involving the local vicar in BBC shows, I can’t say that the Church of England holds a distinct place of familiarity in my imagination. I first learned about Rogation Sunday when the Bishop visited St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Ballard to bless the beehives we installed on our church roof a few years back. Since then, references to the tradition of Rogation Days have come up in readings on ecotheology, creation care, and community garden projects. During a time when many are becoming more attuned to climate change and its localized manifestations, to snowpack measurements, rain gauges, and the first signs of fire season, the liturgy of Rogationtide gives language for seeking God’s blessing, and for lamenting human impact upon the rest of creation.

The noun ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin verb rogare, to ask; a simple basis for prayers of petition. This ancient, ambulatory practice is observed when a local vicar and members of the parish walk around the area in procession, pausing at fields and farms for prayers, readings, and hymns; giving thanks to God for stream and forest, sheep and cattle, seed and plough. As the procession enters the church, the Great Litany is read—a long, penitential prayer read most often during the season of Lent. 1 Thus, in the midst of Easter’s great celebration, six weeks after proclaiming “He is Risen! Alleluia!” we find this moment of pause in the church calendar.

The pause, the prayers, the procession, invite us to listen to God’s word while observing the ground beneath our feet, feeling the fronds of an opening fern, tasting the mist of changing tides and fresh spring air as we speak prayers of petition and even contrition.

Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of life, let your
blessing be upon this [evergreen forest, salmon and trout hatchery, dairy farm, strawberry field,
vineyard, wheat combine, ___] and grant that it may serve to your glory and the welfare of your
people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rogation Days hand us a near complete prima theologia of dirt and water; a primal petitioning of God’s blessing upon the earth so that we may live. This primary theology can feed spiritual practices that direct our gaze and contemplation to the world of creation directly below us, above us, all around us. By stopping to give voice to prayers for favorable weather conditions, good soil, strong hands and backs, and a sumptuous future harvest, we open a possibility to connect more deeply with the work of our hands in our own P-patch or backyard garden plot. Or, similarly—for those of us who are best trusted with indoor succulents—Rogation prayers offer an opportunity to remember the dirt and labor required to make a simple meal with fresh ingredients like potatoes, greens, and fish. Such is the beginning of a theology of creation for here and now.

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Many of us have been taught a very particular rendition of the Genesis chapter three-story—the one where the human (adam) formed from the earth (adamah) is destined to work the ground; to toil upon the land, turning dust to mud and rich soil by sweat. This particular theological narrative teaches us that, unless a field is recognizably transformed in such a way that makes the most of each row of seedlings unless there are visible signs of sowing, reaping, and production, the land has not been used for God’s glory. Clear the thorny berry briars. Plant the grains and cereals. Allow grasses for the livestock. Replace useless vegetation with that which is good for consumption. Agriculture is the beginning of human culture, so we’ve been told.

From Enki’s Mesopotamian bread baskets to Bacchus’ Grecian wine vats, the vast rows of today’s wheat, corn, and barley fields are the inevitable inheritors of a long line of sacred tradition. All who faithfully till the ground in this way will be blessed. And so we simply ask God to provide the rains in due time, the sun at peak growth, and may the Spirit multiply the yield.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers;
neither reward us according to our sins. Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou has
redeemed…and by thy mercy preserve us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

The Pacific Northwest attracted families from Scandinavian regions in part because of its topographical resemblances and in part because the timber industry was hiring a great many workers just when famines had uprooted families. By the time my great-grandparents arrived in Seattle, the treaties of Medicine Creek (1854), Point Elliott (1855), and Point No Point (1855), had set demarcations of lands and rights favoring settlers over the Coast Salish. President Lincoln’s Homestead Act of 1862 (quite literally) laid out a path to citizenship and a widespread enculturation of land. Plots were available for a small sum so long as a head of household promised to use it “for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation.” Clearing dense evergreen forests was difficult work, but the ground underneath promised rich growth.

Elsewhere around Puget Sound and the mouth of the Columbia, floodplains and estuarine areas required less intensive deforestation to access the land, but brought with them other challenges. Where rivers meet sea water, the land is salty, marsh —a hypostatic liminality neither fully ground nor fully water. Farmers requiring good clean dirt constructed dike systems, corralled the waters, and channeled rivers. But water is not tame and one year’s hard work could be washed out with the next  Spring flood. Technologies of dam construction on both sides of the Cascade Range quickly became agriculture’s helpmate. In the riparian corridors throughout the region, everything done for the benefit of managing rivers and developing land was at the detriment of fish habitat, as seen most dramatically in the precipitous declines of salmon populations following the first World War. Bread and grain became the adversary of fish, in constant competition for life-giving waters.

That it may please thee to send forth laborers into thy harvest, and to draw all
humankind into they kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Agricultural language is entwined with Protestant missions. Jesus himself said, “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Mt 9:37). On the cusp of the twentieth century, nowhere did this seem truer than the Columbia River basin and its roguish port cities. As with fertile ground, the fruits of one’s labor should be evidenced by the ways people chose to live in Christian faith, avoiding certain behaviors and embracing others. However, much like the mystery of seeds that won’t germinate, some souls simply refuse to be sown in straight rows, resembling all others.

There is a quiet independence that traverses this region like tectonic fault lines, or veins of quartz hidden in the granite backbones of the earth. And it tends to only show itself to those who have eyes to see. My grandparents were not churchgoers, yet I have the family Bible with their names and birth dates. Perhaps it could be said that this region offers its harvest when we can come to recognize different methods for cultivating a landscape. Prairies of eel grass in a shallow bay, for example, offer refuge to shellfish, crab, and minnows. An engineered beaver dam intertwining roots and limbs alongside a stream provides safe passage for salmon smolt. A proscribed burning of a Garry Oak savannah generates life for camas, deer, and hawks. Much like the biotic world, spirituality here blooms in the most surprising microclimates. We do ourselves a disservice when particular cultural methods are prioritized and valued, to the harm of others.

That it may please thee to bless the lands and waters, and all who work upon them
to bring forth food and all things needful for thy people,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to look with favor upon all who care for the earth, the water and the air,
that the riches of thy creation may abound from age to age,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Farming and fisheries are both integral to the identity and composition of the Cascadia/Salish Sea bioregion, yet they represent two competing visions and histories. Their symbolic elements, bread and water, are entangled in a web of sacramental tensions that erupt periodically—the Fish Wars leading up to the 1974 Boldt Decision, the ongoing fight to remove the four lower Snake River dams. Eucharistic table fellowship sounds hollow when the water to grow grain and grape makes rivers inhospitable to critical species. Baptismal waters are symbolically drained of meaning when culverts run dry and fields turn to dust. How can this be, that Baptism and the Eucharist are at cross-purposes?

Bread and water perform myriad theological tasks, and they provide a material foundation upon which to cultivate a bioregional-informed vision of human flourishing. Our task is to pay attention to where populations, livelihoods, habitats—human and more than human—are diminished, and on the verge of death. What sorts of corrections and balances need to be put into place so that all harvests, from land and sea, become more plentiful? What do we need to learn, and from whom do we need to learn, to re-orient ourselves here in Cascadia in order to sustain the riches of God’s creation for the coming generations?

Pause. Pray. Walk around your neighborhood, your church’s neighborhood, your town center, once again. At the close of this year’s observation of Rogation Days, I would like to offer a prayer adapted from Prayer 1 in the Book of Common Prayer, “For Joy in God’s Creation” (p. 814).

O heavenly FatherMother, who fills the world with beauty and yearnings for abundance:

Open our eyes to recognize your handiwork moving us toward life and love for all; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you as we pursue paths of solidarity; for the sake of the One who will come again, through whom all things were made, the Word and Wisdom of God. Amen.


1 Liturgy for the Rogation Procession can be found in The Book of Occasional Services (1994) for the Episcopal Church, pp. 103-105; the Great Litany is found in the Book of Common Prayer (1979), pp. 148-155.