The Very Hungry Caterpillar – a Harvest Reflection

It’s harvest time, and in our churches we are celebrating with our harvest festivals. As a child these were all about giving thanks for the gifts of God by singing the traditional harvest hymns and by bringing gifts to show what the harvest had been for us each year. Like now, I lived in a place where seeing the food production process from ploughing to harvesting (and also the impact of stubble burning) was part of everyday life. When I was a minister in London in the early 2000s however, it was very different, and a good part of our harvest celebrations was remembering where our food came from and thinking of the producers and process of the food that seems to “magically” appear in our local shops.

In more recent years, harvest celebrations have become significantly more about the impact of our consuming on creation, with a lesser emphasis on harvest thanksgiving. Harvest celebration have become for me a reminder of how our worship in church needs to be connected to the reality of the world we live in, for we cannot give thanks for all that God has given in the harvest if we do not also notice how many do not get to share the harvests of our world and the impact that our living is having on the created order. Our climate crisis and harvest thanksgivings have to sit together.

This year our harvest is focusing on the concept of “Enough” and I’m reading a book called “The Art of Enough” by Becky Hal, where she describes “Enough” as “the state from which every single person on our planet can thrive – living with dignity, equality, and sufficient resources – without overshooting planetary boundaries. With enough each of us learns how to live within the natural limits of our lives, and this sets us free to flourish.” Enough, she says “is the wisdom to follow the natural patterns of growth, which challenge the idea that growth is about always being bigger or having more. Enough connects us to the planet that we share. Enough is a state of being and way of living.”

To help our thinking I have been considering the story of the very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle. You can watch the video link here:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar from the book by Eric Carle

The story tells us about a newborn caterpillar who is very hungry when they are first born. We then hear how through a week they munch their way through all sorts of food to satisfy their hunger until they start to eat too much and can finally eat no more! Then they lay down to rest and when they wake, they realise that all the need is one leaf and they are fine. In the end the caterpillar settles down and builds a cocoon around themselves, and of course we know what happens after that: they finally emerge from the cocoon transformed into a beautiful butterfly.

The thing is that the very hungry caterpillar is a consumer, just like we are. And just like us, when they we enjoying our consuming, they struggle to know when they have enough!

For Harvest this year I am reflecting on how we need to work at what it means to have “enough”. Becky Hall says in her book that some people have said to her that the concept of enough represents mediocrity – settling for the average and not trying hard. But she goes on to say that actually her exploring has led her to realise that this isn’t true, and in reality “enough is a springboard to a healthy and sustainable life”.

As people connected to all of creation we are having to notice when we have enough. We are also called to notice that many people and places in our world are shouting “enough is enough”. We cannot go on munching through the precious resources of our planet simply because we want more of something we enjoy. If we are to really notice this, we need to really acknowledge that we have enough and done enough. Our planet is crying out “enough is enough – it is time to change!”. Like the very hungry caterpillar: we have a global stomach-ache.

Many faiths tell us we need to live gently with the earth, to sit well with the world. In Christianity we learn something of that from the life of Jesus, who we are told lived humbly on the earth. One of the letters of Paul in the bible says this of Jesus “though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but he emptied himself…. and he humbled himself.” I fear that as human beings we do the opposite and think we should be “god” of the earth, considering that it is there for our consumption. The truth is we need to be humble. As the prophet Micah says in the Hebrew Scriptures: “God has told you what is good and what is required of you: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

The letter of Paul that I just mentioned goes on to say that we need to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, and the word “our” there is collective. We need to work together for salvation – our living out cannot be at the expense of another part of creation. And we do it in fear and trembling because it is not easy.

This harvest time, there is much to tell us that all is not well with the world. Let us live humbly so that we will learn to live with enough.

Think of a world without any hunger, think of a world without any war.

think of a world where no one hoards their treasure,

think of a world where no one asks for more.

We prayer, Dear God, for wisdom and for courage

to live our lives within your world today.

May you know the truth of “enough” this week.

Rev Anne Sardeson

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