For the fruits of all Creation: Fred Pratt Green
Bible Study by Linda J. Williams
Fred Pratt Green follows a high tradition, both religious and secular, of using the poetic words of song to convey history and wisdom.
For Christianity the song is termed “hymn”, the most sacred of these being the collection known as the Psalter or the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Some of these hymns were originally written for and by individuals for personal devotion. Others were put together for official synagogue and Temple worship.
Biblical scholars note that the texts we now know have been edited and developed right up to the time of the canon being closed at the end of the first century AD.. This is an important point for us to remember when considering the relevance or status of new song writings: what is tradition to us today, was modern or new-fangled when first written or re-arranged.
But the fact is: whether of today or yesterday, words are able to express feeling, meaning and truth (actual or spiritual) and it behoves us to look at them carefully so that we know what we are actually claiming when we speak or sing them. After all, it is not just concepts, emotions or events that are expressed, but also theology. We must ask therefore, whether we subscribe to that particular belief or understanding. If the sentiments are the same as ours, we can sing with more gusto. If we don’t support the writer’s convictions, that is equally our right and indeed, all right, but whatever our own beliefs, we should at least give the song’s opinions consideration from as many aspects as possible so that we might sing the hymn with honesty.
Jesus encouraged His followers to do precisely this with all aspects of life and faith. A constant theme in His ministry was to challenge people, even those who were supposed to be the experts, the Scribes and Pharisees, to examine the pertinence and righteousness of their dogmas, traditions, and actions.
Of course, it has to be acknowledged that one person’s interpretation of what is written, might not be someone else’s. This, as we know from the multifarious Christian denominations and the many versions of the Bible, is a potential bone of contention for those who take their religion seriously. So please bear in mind that what follows is only one understanding and response to Fred’s hymn.
For the fruits of all creation, verse 1, thanks God for the universality of creation: all things for all people; all that the earth and God give to every individual in a cycle of growth and decay which ensures posterity.
The hymn reminds us of those ancient psalms spoken of above. Psalm 126, as in Fred’s hymn, contains just a few well-chosen words that convey deep reflection whilst encouraging the reader to do the same. It is one of the liturgical psalms, probably sung as the congregation processed its way up through the city of Jerusalem to the Temple. It’s a song of praise, recalling the return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon around the 6th century BC. They had been carried there as captives and as such were restricted in how they could maintain, let alone develop, their national culture. Exile was a place where they could not be themselves – they could not grow properly. Eventually they were allowed to go home. Then they could flourish and sing!
The psalm makes a parallel of this imposed stiflement and subsequent growth with the processes of agriculture. They plant the seed in dry land (exile), seasonal rains cause the rivers to flood (their tears evoke God’s intervention), and the result is a good harvest (the people blossom and thrive). Topping it off, nations round about are amazed at their transformation – at what Yahweh (I Am Who I Am) has done for them.
Fred Pratt Green echoes that ancient acknowledgement of God’s creative work. The fruits to every nation are secure in God’s plan.
For the fruits of all creation, verse 2, reflects the Biblical injunction to share. When we help each other we are doing God’s will. Take a look at the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 26:5-11. Here we read of God’s instruction that past difficulties should be remembered; thanks given for God’s help; and the results of the harvest shared with the priests and even with the foreigners who live in the land. Huge numbers of people, some even in prosperous countries, cannot look forward to harvest celebrations. For many, their crops fail; others do not get the proper price for their products. The constant grind produces an abundance of tears. This is not what God wants.
Living is not an isolationist affair – no one is an island. True life requires the assistance of others to one degree or another. Having other people around provides not only possible companionship but also security. It has been well documented by economists and aid agencies that helping other countries to be self-sufficient has positive effects for our own economic improvement.
Therefore harmony is a vital component for wholesome life world-wide. We see the necessity of this quite clearly in the events following September 11, 2001, as the global village felt the effects of large-scale and unpredictable attack on ordinary civilians going about their daily business. Neighbours, national and inter-national, need to look out for each other.
It makes good spiritual and practical sense to share, and to be thankful that one can share, because everyone has needs of one kind or another. And who knows when any of us might want a helping hand?
For the fruits of all creation, verse 3, expresses gratitude for the marvels we are unable to fully comprehend: the Wisdom and Love of God administered through the Holy Spirit and, indeed, actioned by our own Spirit or self. There are many “truths” both material and spiritual that we find difficult to grasp – through lack of willingness, as well as shortage of understanding. But there is plenty of need.
The Gospel according to Matthew 9:35-37 speaks of a special kind of harvest – a crop of weary and disheartened souls for whom there are not enough workers, i.e. those who “do”. And the “doing” is not only to spread the good news verbally, but also physically to make a difference to people’s condition. Before Matthew gives notice of this recruitment campaign, much space is taken up with the many healings and good turns that Jesus performs for people. This is the example of what the harvesters are to accomplish and what the apostle Paul calls the “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). We are to help because God sets the example.
The Bible enjoins people to remember God’s constant help by enacting ceremonies, saying prayers and singing psalms (hymns). The festival of the autumn harvest was one such important occasion, a season for the people to rededicate themselves to following God’s commands.
Christianity continued to follow this tradition. The trouble is, when we have a fairly easy life, when daily existence is not constantly life-threatening; when food and shelter are known to be ours, and professional health care readily available, it is very easy not to be thankful, let alone acknowledge that God is our benefactor.
Yet how quick we are to get angry with God the second anything goes wrong! How quickly we can forget our own responsibilities and culpabilities! That’s why throughout the Bible there are instructions to remember the source of life and all that sustains it, and so to give thanks for the cycle of seasons, of growth and decay, and of living and learning.
The Old Testament festival of Tabernacles (the ancient celebration of Harvest) had readings, first, from near the end of the Scriptures and then from near the beginning. In our case, this could mean a reading from the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, and then from the beginning of Genesis. A look at two such readings gives a poignant reminder of some of those astounding wonders and truths Fred speaks of:-
Revelation 22:1-2 The book Revelation says: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Women’s Study New Testament, based on NRSV, 1995)
Genesis 1:11-12a “God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on earth, bearing fruit with their seed inside, each corresponding to its own species. And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: the various kinds of seed-bearing plants and the fruit trees with seed inside, each corresponding to its own species. God saw that it was good.” (The New Jerusalem Bible, Study Edition, 1994)
Consider the multi-faceted aspects of the word “harvest”. First, we might think of the produce of the land, noting these days that the harvest season is not as fixed as it used to be, crops can now be sown and gathered during many months of the year. Second, we can acknowledge that “harvest” is also the result of the variety of ways that people earn their living. Third, our concept of harvest must include the world-wide exchange and inter-dependence of production, trade, social and religious interaction, and general aid. And fourth, and most important, is the end-product of personal and corporate spiritual growth and faith seeking understanding.
Fred Pratt Green’s hymn succinctly reminds us of what God gives to us, what we give to each other; and the awesome co-operation between the material and spiritual truths embodied in life. This song is a celebration and thanksgiving of God’s creative love.
1. Read Psalm 126, Deuteronomy 26:5-11, Matthew 9:35-37, then light a candle as your own celebration of sharing in a world-wide harvest. Remember the difficulties/problems/huge numbers of people involved and give thanks for their work as well as for God’s creative design.
Think of the candlelight as a little beacon to inspire you, and the flame lifting your prayers heavenward. Pray that what God wants will increasingly be done throughout the world… God’s way and God’s goodness shining brightly and continuously.
2. What are some of the ways you spread that goodness and inspiration?
- By supporting one or more of the many charities (either religious or secular)?
- Perhaps by offering a prayer along these lines:
Creator God, for all Your blessings to me, bless You.
Thank You for seasons and cycles of creativity; for the birds, animals and plants and their contribution to my well-being. May they be appreciated and cared for wherever they are…
Gracious God, thank You for all kinds of harvest; especially for every thought, word or deed that heals or makes better…
For the millions who find it hard to be thankful, grant knowledge and acceptance of Your loving friendship…
May every person be open to Your Spirit’s teaching and guiding…
May every action enhance life…
May Love’s healing bring harmony to the nations and religions of the world…
May You be known for who You Are: the “I Am”,
Creator, Sustainer and Friend,
To Whom be all glory forever,
© 2002 Linda Williams. Copying facilities provided are limited to local use by owners of HymnQuest. Wider or commercial use needs negotiation with the copyright holder.
The copyright in this bible study vests in the author. Permission is given for them to be reproduced by HymnQuest purchasers for local use. Wider or commercial use requires their consent.