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Archive for August, 2019

John Barleycorn and I

As we enter the season of Lammastide, my eyes are drawn daily to the beautiful crop of oats growing in our garden.  The heads are filling out and passing through their milky stage. The tall stalks have survived storm winds and hail, and within weeks the grain will harden and it will be time to put in the sickle.
In the spring, we began the sowing of this crop by gently and prayerfully burying the oat-doll which we made from the final cut of last season’s harvest. She held the spirit of the oats throughout the winter, hanging on our wall, a reminder of the continuity of life in its cycles. After several months of good summer growth, the work of harvest will begin again. My goodwife and I will cut the stalks, bind and stook them, thresh them, winnow them, and clean the oats, all by hand. It is a labour intensive process, providing our breakfast porridge throughout the year. At some point in the harvest, I will inevitably curse this whole idea of “back to the land living”, with its stupid valorization of physical work. But in truth, it is a very good life.
Though oats are not barley, I can’t help but be reminded of the ballad of John Barleycorn at this point in the year-wheel. In many ways, I can relate to poor John. Yes, technically I am one of the threshermen, who will kill and crush Sir Barleycorn. But on a deeper level, I am also Barleycorn himself. I am the stalk which must yield to the crescent blade. I am the head of grain which must submit to the harshness of life, as well as its sweet joys. As the song proclaims, “John Barleycorn must die”. And so must I, this “small i” which dies to make room for the vast and cosmic “I” of the life-giving Life.
Or, as another Barleycorn once put it: “Verily, I say unto you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But dying, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Loaf-mass blessings be upon you all.

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