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Lammas: the beginning of the harvest

A bumblebee on a teasel head with ripe wheat in the background

One of the most interesting people on the internet is Dr Eleanor Parker, a medievalist who tweets as @ClerkOfOxford.

This week she was talking about Lammas – a festival that our medieval Christian ancestors observed, but which has fallen off the calendar. The word ‘Lammas’ means something like ‘loaf mass’: it marked the beginning of the wheat harvest and the first bread made from it.

These days we celebrate the harvest much later in autumn, marking the point where ‘all are safely gathered in’. It feels odd to think about celebrating it a bare week into school holidays and when the days – and nights – are still uncomfortably warm.

But if you take a look, you can still see what the Middle Ages saw. In fact, harvest is already well under way. The fields are a lovely shade of pale gold. There’s a change in the light – some of us who use daylight lamps to ward off the winter blues start turning them on in August.

This is a time of transition. Very, very quietly, the seasons are changing.

And I’ve been thinking about how faith in general, and Cursillo in particular, fits into that.

Change is part of life, and part of faith. We’re all called to grow and develop, to go deeper into our relationship with Christ. Sometimes that change and development comes almost imperceptibly; sometimes it’s a dramatic transformation.

I had never heard of Cursillo, having lived most of my adult life in dioceses where it didn’t exist. The very word was unfamiliar: at first I heard ‘Casio’, like the calculators. When Kathryn told me more about it – ‘a weekend away,’ she said, ‘to invite you deeper into faith, but don’t expect a retreat: there are talks, discussions; we celebrate the Eucharist every day…’ – I was immediately intrigued. The Spanish connection felt significant, for a start.

I’d recently got back from a grand adventure, three weeks Interrailing around Europe: something I’d been planning for months, daydreaming about for years. It was a fantastic experience. And now it was over.

After the end of any adventure, grand or otherwise, I inevitably feel a bit flat. ‘Now what?’ What’s the next thing? More travel? No, not having used up most of my holiday allowance. Getting involved with something at home, then? Yes, but what? I’d walked to Santiago de Compostela the year before; I felt no need to make another pilgrimage, but there was still a pilgrimage-shaped hole in my life.

For me, the invitation to Cursillo came at a time when I was specifically looking for the next thing. When I heard about it, I knew that it was what I was looking for. The weekend itself was, on one level, pretty much what I’d expected, and, on another, a huge, affirming, surprise.

That isn’t true for everybody. Many Cursillistas have spoken of a ‘what am I doing here?’ feeling, of making a leap of faith and discovering that Cursillo was exactly what they needed. Some were told very little about it ahead of time, and consequently found it a difficult, if ultimately valuable, experience.

All the same, a leap of faith needn’t be a leap into the unknown, and I’d encourage anyone inviting a potential pilgrim to be open about what they can expect to encounter: after all, the miracle of Cursillo isn’t what we put into it, it’s what God does through it. And I’d encourage potential pilgrims to ask anything they need in order to feel comfortable about signing up – you can get in touch with us using the phone numbers on the information sheet as well as using the Contact form on this site if there’s something you’d rather not ask the person who’s invited you.

Our next Cursillo, Ely 37, will take place in the middle of September. We’re praying – and I hope you’ll join us in that – that it will be a blessed and fruitful experience for our pilgrims. We’re praying, too, for Claire and Olivia and for the whole staff team, and we’re looking forward to welcoming a new group of pilgrims.

But of course, if people are going to join us in September, we need them to sign up as soon as possible. That’s for a host of practical reasons – we need to confirm arrangements with our venue – for our own peace of mind – we’re at that stage where we have some pilgrims confirmed, but not quite enough to run the weekend if no more join – and for pilgrims’ sake too – they may well need to make arrangements ahead of time. But it’s very fitting. Harvest begins now.

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.
Luke 10: 2

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